What’s in a name? It’s an age-old question and despite the rhetorical nature of its most iconic phrasing, multiple attempts to provide insight have yielded multiple opposing answers.
It’s a question that once again came under scrutiny earlier this week when several sustainable investing champions called for the label “ESG” to be dropped and instead replaced by another term less encumbered by pre-existing social and political implications. Professor Robert Eccles insisted that the term “just doesn’t have value anymore” and that it’s time to change the conversation. While defending the concept of ESG, he invited a move to the more “boring” term – material risk factors.
It’s not the first such demand for a rebrand to a pre-existing concept or concern that has made headlines in recent weeks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently invited the wider public to submit new name ideas for the Monkeypox Virus in an online portal in a bid to find a name “not stigmatising.”
When done right, the power of a name change or branding overhaul is something to be admired. A rebrand can signify so many things – a new beginning, a fresh perspective, an updated offering or a shift in strategic priorities. Sometimes a rebrand makes logistical sense for a business – after all, an insurance broker with some commutation of Willis or Gallagher or Howden in its name is unlikely to compete with the titans that share its designation when it comes to online search engines.
In other cases, a rebrand is more about communicating an internal change within a business in order to reduce confusion and align branding with a new strategic purpose. Following an acquisition, a firm may seize the opportunity to present a new face to the market and herald the changes its new ownership will bring to customers and partners alike.
In insurance, a willingness to update policy terminology and product wordings often represents a welcome change to insurance brokers who otherwise have to wade through multiple iterations of the same offering. An aligned and accessible approach to wording has long been championed by associations including BIBA and the CII, as well as regulators including the FCA and PRA.
Revamped and more comprehensible wordings are of substantial benefit to brokers and insureds alike, but the more effective use of language can also have significant implications for the internal workings of insurance businesses. For example, Zurich Insurance found it was able to increase the number of women applying to senior management roles by 45% in three months by using more inclusive language in its offering. This “nudge campaign” resulted in a 25% increase in female applicants across the company.
But as seen from the above example, a name change or wording update can be effective and efficient at switching things up when, and really only when, it’s not really about the name change at all but rather about communicating an underpinning cultural or strategic shift.
A name change should not be seen as an excuse to sweep your concerns about something under the rug and dress it up with the sticking plaster that is a new identity. From my perspective, there’s little point in rebranding ESG or Monkeypox or even an insurance business if it amounts to little more than a hollow magic trick attempting to convince the viewer that change has been achieved.
If attitudes to ESG are not what they should be, it’s time to refocus on where ESG measures need to be improved, and where further education and insight are required to communicate its worth to the naysayers. The problem with Monkeypox is not its, admittedly ridiculous-sounding, name but rather the attitudes of those allowing it to be associated with intolerant discourse.
Because language, with all its implications, is one of the most powerful forces in the world, not for its own sake but rather because it drives and is itself moulded by change. For insurance firms looking to tap into that, change needs to be driven from the inside out, with language reflecting real evolution, not offering a shiny distraction from where it ought to be.