What’s in a name? Provident, The People’s Bank and the regulation of brand identity

McFall, Liz (2016). What’s in a name? Provident, The People’s Bank and the regulation of brand identity. In: Ertürk, Ismail and Gabor, Daniela eds. The Routledge Companion to Banking Regulation and Reform. Routledge Companions. Routledge, 55 -73.

URL: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/978113500715...


For its first 80 years the Provident Clothing and Supply Company had been a profitable family business operating a remarkably stable business model. This model revolved around the doorstep distribution of documentary credit in the form of checks that could be redeemed at specific retailers. As the ‘clothing and supply’ descriptor implies, this was credit designed to supply everyday needs and it was targeted directly at poorer households. The company negotiated discounts with retailers and charged fees to customers in a system that worked to both spread and control the costs of credit. During that time the Provident cultivated a quiet, conservative image using trademarks, logos and standard information on internally printed corporate paperwork that seldom varied over decades. The 1960s, in contrast, saw a sudden burst into colour and the first representations of Provident customers enjoying the modern standards of living that credit could furnish began to appear.

For a company that had built its business in supplying the means to buy ‘clothes, boots and coal’ to those with very limited resources, this was quite a shake-up. It signalled the start of an era in which the business model, the products offered, the means of delivery and the corporate image would change frequently and substantially alongside the identity the company was striving to name. If Stuart Hall’s lesson that identity is always ‘a process of becoming rather than being’ (Hall, 1996: 4) is attended to and extended from questions of cultural to those of corporate identity, Provident, by the early 1960s, had started trying to become something both like, and unlike, what it had been. Identity however is neither a fixed essence nor a free for all and the resources of history, language and regulation bear down upon it. It was ultimately the latter that thwarted the company’s attempt to name itself what it meant to become: the People’s Bank.

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