Ally Bank: A Sheep or A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing?

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Rebranding is not a new trick. You may recall that Philip Morris tried to rebrand itself as Altria because of all the bad press associated with cigarettes. Now GMAC bank is trying to rebrand itself as Ally Bank, an honest bank with no ties to the shiftiness of the economic collapse.

Why Ally Bank?

It’s simple: the word “ally” gives the impression that the bank is your partner, working with you to achieve your common goal of protecting your money. By using this as their name, they’re sending the message that you can trust them.

GMAC is only mentioned once on the site, then the rest is about their strong values and dedication to honesty.

New Ally Bank Features

With the launch comes a host of new offerings, including a no-penalty CD that you can withdraw from anytime, a traditional CD, a savings accounts, and a money market account. The interest rates are above the rate you’d find for a traditional brick-and-mortar bank, and about even with other online banks.

The biggest difference they tout is that they have no fees, and no minimum balances. And, in big capital letters “NO SNEAKY DISCLAIMERS.” Hmmm, why do they have to stress that so hard? Could it be because as an auto loan and mortgage corporation, they were pretty synonymous with sneakiness and miles of disclaimers?

Why Rebrand?

GMAC Financial Services only became a bank in late December of 2008, when they were on the verge of collapse and applied to become a bank so they could accept bailout funds. Following the stress tests last week, GMAC was informed that it needed $11.5 billion in additional capital, most likely from the government.

They’re now rebranding to distance themselves from the taint of both General Motors (which established GMAC as its auto financing arm, before expanding into mortgages, and from there into financial ruin) and the banking system collapse and bail-out. This is a way for GMAC to get a fresh start.

Like most banks, I found mixed reviews of their customer service, interest rates, and general practices online. I don’t think the rebranding was an attempt to hide poor customer service, but rather a response to poor public sentiment. Unlike GMAC, Ally Bank doesn’t automatically create negative impressions of bad cars and shady practices.

On the other hand, a rebrand is just a new name for an existing company. This doesn’t change their need for capital, it doesn’t change the people behind the bank, and it doesn’t change the corporate culture that resulted in financial ruin. They don’t issue mortgages, though, so at least it’s a start.

Only time will tell whether or not people buy into the brand. It really doesn’t affect your decision about whether or not to use the bank. It’s just interesting to see how a bank attempts to change its brand during one of the worst financial crises in history.

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