Money Moves: Designing Financial Rebrands
We love the capital markets, but we can admit that the industry is not always known for its aesthetics. With so much focus on numbers and technology, brand imagery can often get pushed to the backburner — and that’s too bad, because your brand image is one of the most important things about your company. Your logo is likely the first thing people will see that represents your company, and they will continue to see it nearly every time they interact with your brand in some way. It not only catches the eye of your audience, but it also can tell your story.
For those reasons, we are always interested when companies in our industry make the effort to rebrand themselves. Our content strategist (and general capital markets enthusiast) Spencer Doar and our design lead (and, unsurprisingly, general design enthusiast) Jeffrey Rabin got together to analyze four notable recent rebrands in the industry — both the context of why the companies rebranded, and the aesthetics of how they rebranded. Read their thoughts below!
CBOE and Bats vs Cboe Global Markets — “The Hybrid”
Spencer Doar: In 2017, CBOE completed its acquisition of Bats, forming Cboe Global Markets in a multi-billion dollar deal that altered the exchange landscape by combining two of the U.S.’s largest trading destinations.
Founded in 2005, Bats (an acronym for “Best Alternative Trading Systems”) was a relative newcomer to the trading arena compared to CBOE (“Chicago Board Options Exchange”), which was founded in 1973 and holds the title of first exchange to list equity options. Bats was a Kansas City-based firm that also operated European stock exchanges and an FX platform, whereas Chicago-based CBOE offered derivatives and did not have an overseas exchange.
Thus, the new, non-acronym name, Cboe Global Markets, encapsulates the fact that the combined exchange family’s footprint is world-wide and multi-asset (no “Chicago” or “options” anymore in the “Cboe,” just “global markets”).
Jeffrey Rabin: When combining two brands, there are hundreds of possibilities at hand. Although it changes on a case-by-case basis, many times both brands want to make sure that their imagery is carried over into the new look. In the case at hand, “CBOE” kept the brand’s namesake — however, the look and feel directly reflects that of Bats.
When looking at the design, the most obvious standouts are that Bats’ color scheme is carried over into Cboe’s new look, and the old diamond logo is even represented as well. Although having a typeface logo in all capital letters is still popular today (for example, Netflix, and also a brand to be covered later in this post), the much more modern look is to have lower case letters (for example, Facebook or Hulu), which was the case with the Bats brand. Although I am a big fan of the way both brands were able to be represented in this new look, it feels like the callback to the old Bats logo is a little forced. Below I included a little mockup of a different way Cboe Global Markets could have included the callback symbol to the original Bats logo, while making more efficient use of space.
SD: The below would have also added symbolism, as having Bats’ prior logo inside the “C” could be representative of how the new company incorporated Bats’ trading technology into its exchange systems.
Old CFTC vs new CFTC — “Patriot Grids”
SD: The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rebranded for the first time in its 45-year history in January 2020. The CFTC is the U.S. federal regulator of futures, swaps, and some options trading. The organization was created by the passing of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act and officially got up and running in 1975. Given that it is a governmental agency, it’s no surprise to see a red, white, and blue color scheme, and an eagle featured prominently.
The CFTC replaced the Commodity Exchange Authority, which had been part of the Department of Agriculture. That made sense as futures trading then, unlike now, was dominated by agricultural products. Thus, the plow in the old logo.
At that time, futures trading was not electronic and activity took place in octagonal pits located at predominantly regional exchanges in cities like Chicago, Kansas City, and New York — that heritage can be seen framing the eagle and its accessories.
With all of the shifts in markets, one must wonder, “When will the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) change its logo?
JR: Grid-based design is super popular in branding and logo work because, as you can see, it produces a clean and simple result. CFTC went from an “old school” crest logo — with typeface that goes upside down at some parts in a circle around a geometric object with a complex vector image — to the cleanest form of design there is. Looking back at history, whether it is kingdom banners, family rings, or social clubs, crests have always been a sign of tradition. However, in a day and age that calls for sleek design and simplicity, we rarely see a brand update its image into that kind of symbol. Brands like the grid method because the logo can be easily replicated in any size and put on just about any sort of media without having to worry about spacing or formatting.
While deviating from the original logo, a lot of themes and ideas are carried over into the new one. The original octagon shape represented the shape of traditional trading pits, and in the new logo there are now eight stars, paying homage to this element. It is interesting that this is one of the only visual elements that is carried into the new logo, rather than the eagle, scales, etc. In order to pay homage or replicate the more patriotic elements, CFTC decided to go with a red, white, and blue color scheme, to replicate the flag (along with the stars mentioned earlier, with red stripes next to them). Lastly, CFTC clearly understood the importance of having its written out name be clear and legible, because it is now featured at the bottom of the logo, rather than circling around the entire image.
You can see exactly how it fits into a grid below.
Wells Fargo — “19th Century Meets 21st Century (in Vector Form)”
SD: Wells Fargo got its start in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush, ferrying precious metals and other valuables from coast to coast. The strength of Wells Fargo’s financial transportation operation led it to help create the Overland Mail Company in 1958, which facilitated fast cross-country communication.
Arguably the most romantic element of this early period of Wells Fargo’s methods of transport — which included plenty of railroads and steamships — was the stagecoach, deployed when railroads stopped and rivers ended. Guarded by a “shotgun messenger,” the stagecoach carried a 100–150 lb. lockbox full of whatever valuables customers wanted moved across the country.
(Trivia: Wyatt Earp was one of these shotgun messengers for a brief period in 1880 before becoming a deputy sheriff in Arizona, prior to his time in Tombstone.)
Through a great deal of corporate evolution and much thick and thin, Wells Fargo has stuck with its iconic, movie-appearing stagecoach emblem. The most recent rough patch being a great deal of headline-garnering regulatory actions in the wake of a fraud scandal at the bank. [Our CEO Drew Mauck also analyzed a Wells Fargo corporate apology from two years ago — he gave it a mediocre grade.]
No time to freshen things up like a period of severe reputational damage!
JR: Vector-based design is when you create something totally out of shapes (geometric or circular) without any other added design elements (shadow, depth, illustrations, etc.) to create your image. Great examples of popular vector-based logos would be Apple or Starbucks. Vector based logos can be perfectly replicated at any size (with the proper digital file) whether it is small enough for a wristband, or large enough to cover a wall. Today, vector-based design — whether it is branding or simply just artwork — is becoming more and more popular. It can be abstract enough to loosely represent an idea effectively, or can be detailed enough to depict exactly what you want it to.
As you can see, Wells Fargo wanted to keep its brand image, but modernize it in terms of style. Because of this, the result is a vector-based design which utilizes both shapes and negative space to create a visual representing the horse and carriage. Even the square with the “Wells Fargo” text inside is a vector shape! On top of this, Wells Fargo even used a color scheme which represents the fully illustrated version of its previously-used logo.
DRW — “What’s in a Name?”
SD: The eurodollar complex at the CME has been in the news much of late due to its ongoing open outcry presence — it is that innovative instrument that brought DRW founder Don R. Wilson (“D.R.W.”) to power in the futures trading community.
Wilson started trading that complex of products in 1989, before striking out on his own in 1992 with the founding of DRW. Over the ensuing decades, he grew the company into arguably the most dominant, visible futures market making and proprietary trading firm.
Now, DRW trades a wide variety of markets and asset classes globally, as well as making investments via VC and real estate subsidiaries. Wilson is a powerful voice in the market governance and regulatory space, founding the FIA Principal Trading Group and, notably, taking on and winning a case against the CFTC (see above). Note: The ruling in that case contains one of my favorite sentences (definitely Top 10) from a court case: “It’s not illegal to be smarter than your counterparties in a swap transaction.” 🤣
Given how much DRW has expanded its business lines in recent years, it made sense to drop “Trading Group” from its logo, and also to freshen up its brand in general. I will also note that Wilson has a deep love of sailing, with numerous accolades and competition titles to his name, and that may be reflected in the wave elements of the design, as well as the color choices.
Trivia: What’s the name of his sailing team? Why, Convexity of course!
JR: DRW, as you can see, employs what is known as text-based design. This is when a company’s logo isn’t necessarily a symbol or emblem, but instead it is a typeface. In this case, and sometimes in others, you can add design elements to the text in order to make it more interesting. (For example, the negative space in FedEx forming an arrow pointing forward.) Today, some of the most popular brands use a typeface as a logo, such as McDonald’s and Facebook. Because of this, many more brands are starting to emphasize this technique.
Interestingly enough, DRW was able to reference its earlier logo within this new one. As you can see, the W is split into three geometric shapes, resembling the original logo (and the waves). There are as many similarities as there are not. While it is three shapes, instead of going smallest to largest from left to right, the smallest shape is now on the right.The last of the three shapes in the new logo is a similar color to the original logo, however the three shapes are geometric instead of rounded. (In history, geometric shapes and patterns have always been pleasing to the human eye — this trend goes as far back as the ancient Greeks!) As you can see, even though DRW completely changed the base of its design and the method in which it created its logo, DRW was still able to make callbacks to its original look, while moving the brand’s image forward tremendously.
Rebranding can be looked at as a form of evolution for a company. Whether it is due to crisis, a merger, or solely to keep up with the times, rebrands often have a lot of behind the scenes work, where oftentimes many people don’t realize why or how certain decisions were made. We hope that this deep dive into these four notable rebrands in the financial industry gave you a better understanding of not only why rebrands happen, but how the designs are executed. It’s not often you get a chance to view the graphical construct. However, when you do, it is conversations like these that arise. (In fact, the whole idea behind this blog came from a passing conversation between Jeffrey and Spencer about regulatory history and the CFTC.)
Next time you see a brand reveal their new logo, maybe you’ll be able to pick out what decisions were made: Did they use the same colors? Is there market context informing the choice? Did they totally deviate from their original look? Or does it simply look like a modern version of their old logo?
We hope that this analysis will help you answer a few of those questions!