RICHMOND — Union Bankshares Corp. and its Union Bank & Trust subsidiary will get a rebrand as of Monday. The new name will be Atlantic Union Bank (and the parent company will be called Atlantic Union Bankshares Corp.). The company has spent the last two months getting branches ready with the new signage. A new sign was revealed atop 3 James Center in downtown Richmond on Friday.
John C. Asbury knew it was the right decision to change the Union Bank & Trust name after hearing recently from a Richmond-area businessman who thought he had opened an account online.
After going into a local branch, the man found out that he hadn’t opened an account at Union Bank & Trust as he had thought. Instead, he had opened an account at Union Bank in California that has 350-plus branches primarily on the West Coast.
“If you Google ‘Union Bank,’ what you get is a California-based bank,” said Asbury, president and CEO of Richmond-based Union Bankshares Corp. and CEO of its Union Bank & Trust subsidiary.
That identity issue is one of many reasons Asbury rattles off why Union Bank & Trust is changing its name to Atlantic Union Bank (and the parent company will be called Atlantic Union Bankshares Corp.), effective Monday morning.
Thirteen other financial institutions operate in the U.S. using the Union Bank as part of their name, which Asbury said is confusing for customers and investors.
As Union Bank & Trust has rapidly grown to become the largest financial institution based in Virginia with $16.9 billion in assets, a rebranding was needed, Asbury said. The company is converting 146 branches in Virginia and two locations in Maryland to the new name.
“As we have grown, it was time to address the issue, to have one brand,” Asbury said. “We are not just a Virginia bank. We are more of a Mid-Atlantic bank that operates branches from Maryland to North Carolina. We predict further expansion into Maryland and North Carolina.”
The new Atlantic Union Bank moniker, he said, better reflects not only the company’s geographic expansion in recent years, but also should eliminate any confusion that customers and potential investors have. It also gets rid of any legal issues that have prevented the company from using the Union Bank name in certain markets.
“There’s only one Atlantic Union Bank,” Asbury said.
Kent Engelke, chief economic strategist and managing director at Capitol Securities Management Inc., a brokerage and investment firm in Henrico County, said the rebranding is a good move to avoid confusion in the market with a name that encompasses the company’s growing regional footprint.
“I usually don’t agree with name changes, but in this case this is very positive and it differentiates them,” Engelke said. “Atlantic Union sounds larger and more regional and more dominant. It’s more regal. It is a great branding move.”
The company wanted to have a unique identifiable name that combined the bank’s heritage while recognizing its future, Asbury said. “It keeps the focal point on Union, which we have had for 100 years. People will recognize it.”
The bank traces its roots to Caroline Savings Bank that opened in Bowling Green in 1902. The name changed to Union Bank & Trust in 1921.
The Union Bankshares was formed as a holding company in 1993 with the combination of Union Bank & Trust and Northern Neck State Bank. But the name changed to Union First Market Bankshares in 2010 with the merger with Richmond-based First Market Bank. The name changed again in 2014 to return to its legacy moniker.
Changing the name again was considered more than a year ago when Union Bankshares acquired Richmond-based Xenith Bankshares Inc. in January 2018. Asbury said the company ran out of time to make the name switch then.
Using the Union Bank name on all acquired branches after that acquisition became a problem because Xenith has branches in North Carolina. A financial institution in that state already operates under the Union Bank name and has rights to use the moniker there. As a result, the company continued to use the Xenith name in North Carolina.
Those seven branches in the Tar Heel state will convert to the Atlantic Union Bank name in late summer.
The name change became even more important as Union Bankshares acquired Reston-based Access National Corp. in February and added two additional brands to its lineup — Access National Bank and Middleburg Bank.
That deal also expanded Union’s operations into Northern Virginia where United Bank operates.
Asbury was concerned that Union’s name was going to be confused with United Bank, the West Virginia-based bank that operates 142 branches in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
United Bank’s logo, color scheme and even its stock ticker symbol closely resemble that of Union’s.
“I have driven by a United branch and I have done a double take,” Asbury said. “There is confusion in the marketplace between Union and United. And the last thing we want is a Virginia bank being confused with a West Virginia bank.”
Even the American Banker publication got Union’s name wrong in a recent article about how Asbury is building a regional banking powerhouse. The article twice referred to the company as United Bank, Asbury said.
“We just don’t want to be confused with any other brand,” Asbury said.
Union considered hundreds of name options and conducted research on the new name with customers who Asbury said responded positively to it.
“This resonated the most and it is the one that seemed to fit the best and feel like us,” he said.
The company said it spent $407,000 in the first quarter on rebranding-related costs. It expects to incur another $6 million in rebranding costs during the second and third quarters.
The banking industry is transforming.
“The greatest risk we face as a company is going to depend upon the ability to be nimble and responsive to customers in order to compete with the largest of institutions,” Asbury said.
Union is in a unique position, he said, as the company can be as nimble as the smallest banks but has the offerings to compete with the largest financial institutions.
Union also could be the biggest beneficiary of the planned merger between regional banking giants BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. The $66 billion deal, announced in early February, will lead to branch closings and likely job reductions.
“Virginia is ground zero for most of the overlap,” Asbury said.
SunTrust and BB&T have about 250 branches in Virginia within 2 miles of each other, said Maria P. Tedesco, a veteran banker who was named president of Union Bank & Trust in September.
“We predict half of them will close. Many of them are across the street from each other,” Tedesco said about the SunTrust and BB&T branches.
BB&T and SunTrust have acknowledged that about 740 branches across several states are within 2 miles of each other, or about 24 percent of all the banks’ branch locations.
“No one is in a better position to take advantage of that than us,” Asbury said.
Virginia, he said, has not had a statewide independent regional bank based in the state since Crestar Financial Corp. was bought in 1998 by SunTrust. Crestar had $24.9 billion in assets at the time it was acquired.
“We think of us as more than just a Virginia bank but we are proud to be Virginia’s bank,” he said.