Wiss Fiss: the bank name that the Philly region will get to know even more

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One of the many billboards used to announce the change of Beneficial Bank branches to WSFS Bank.  This one is in Dilworth Park in Center City.  The change will be complete on Monday, Aug. 26. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

One of the many billboards used to announce the change of Beneficial Bank branches to WSFS Bank. This one is in Dilworth Park in Center City. The change will be complete on Monday, Aug. 26. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Since spring, there have been billboards across Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey advertising “Wiss Fiss.”

One billboard declared “Wiss Fiss Here. Wiss Fiss There. Wiss Fiss Wiss Fiss Everywhere.”

The messages are the public face of the merger between WSFS Bank and Beneficial Bank.

“WSFS + Beneficial. Two of a kind become one of a kind.”

Beneficial branches will take on the WSFS name as of today; nearly six months after the merger was completed.

WSFS, based in Wilmington, Delaware is banking its success on being the biggest locally-based retail bank in the Delaware Valley.  And it’s trying to use its unusual nickname to make it distinctive.

In other words, “Wiss Fiss is growing. Philly here we come.”

CEO Rodger Levenson says the nickname has been around long before he joined WSFS in 2006.

“I’ve never heard anything where anybody has said there was any issue with calling ourselves Wiss Fiss,” he said.

What is Wiss Fiss doing right

Conventional marketing wisdom says brand names should be short and easy to pronounce, according to Charles R. Taylor, marketing professor at the Villanova University School of Business.  He said the WSFS/ Wiss Fiss marketing blitz is the right move when you don’t have something simple and easy to say.

“Invest in teaching people how they want it pronounced,” Taylor said. “The only way to do that is to spend a lot of money on advertising and promotion.”

Taylor calls the WSFS Bank marketing campaign brilliant and reminiscent of when Wachovia, which was later bought by Wells Fargo, came to town.

On the evening of Aug. 26, WSFS Bank will officially turn on this sign atop their Philadelphia Headquarters. This will signify the completion of the integration of Beneficial Bank and WSFS Bank. (Courtesy of WSFS Bank)

“Look at how that’s spelled; nobody in Philadelphia could pronounce it,” he said.  “So they took out ads showing people how to pronounce Wachovia and they took out billboards doing that too.” Taylor adds its necessary for WSFS to teach people how to pronounce their name.

“If they weren’t saying Wiss Fiss, consumers would try to pronounce W-S-F-S different ways or they would get the acronym wrong.”

What does WSFS stand for and against?

WSFS officially stands for Wilmington Savings Fund Society; founded in 1832.  The bank has turned it into its service line, “We Stand For Service.” Taylor said the bank’s marketing campaign of its funny sounding name combined with their commitment to customer service gives WSFS an angle to take on bigger banks that are based outside the region.

“I think the uniqueness of the name can actually be a good thing,” he said, “but they’ve absolutely got to deliver on this aspect of customer service.”

Taylor cites a J.D. Power survey that says customers think less of banks generally than they did a decade ago.

At the same time, banks are getting bigger not smaller.  Bloomberg reports the Trump Administration has rolled back efforts by regulators to discourage banks from expanding. That has led to banks announcing more mergers and acquisitions in the first five months of 2019 than any time in the past decade, according to S&P Global. PNC Financial Services, for example, has indicated it’s looking into expansion for the first time since before the great recession.

The same J.D. Power survey, however, showed customers viewed their banks as being more innovative than banks in general.

Rodger Levenson of WSFS said they are an alternative to the big banks while still being large enough to invest in innovation. He thinks being perceived as local is an advantage.

“We think there’s a certain segment of the population where banking locally with a community bank where they can see the impact of the relationship they have with the bank,” he said.  “When they have access to all of the decision makers, there’s a component of the population that really, really values that.”

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