The squirrel


The Caisse d’épargne, the French savings bank, has announced its intent to jettison its logo, a stylized squirrel, in order to appear more like an investment bank.

Scandal or stupidity? It’s hard to tell.

History. The Caisse d’épargne’s history stretches far back into the 19th century. It has always been symbolized by an animal: bees, an ant, the squirrel.

Symbol. As the Caisse d’épargne’s own corporate communications make clear, the savings bank chose the squirrel as its symbol in exceptional circumstances. When a senior executive of the savings bank returned from captivity in 1942, he launched an essay contest, open to French prisoners of war held captive in Germany. William Bate’s winning entry, Didy et Racassot, is a bracing fable: starving prisoners of war chase after a squirrel; but their prey has secreted in a tree trunk a nourishing cache of food, a cache more valuable than the crafty squirrel. Thrift rewards in times of need.

Impact. As a first-time visitor to France, I noticed the Caisse d’épargne’s logo, and I’ve remembered it ever since. Basically all French savers know about the Caisse d’épargne and, from its logo, could find a neighborhood branch easily. The logo works.

Comparison. The Caisse d’épargne, today, has a logo. It’s a great logo. Goldman Sachs has a name (represented on a blue background). Morgan Stanley has a name. Deutsche Bank has a big name and a little logo. Barclays has a big name and a little logo. HSBC has a name –an abbreviation– and a logo. The institutions that the Caisse d’épargne would seek to emulate put forward a name, a signature. And their names can be pronounced outside of France.