With rebranding, BMO bank won’t have a den for Hubert the Harris Lion

The bank is aspiring to national reach, so it is dropping the Harris name and Hubert, its longtime symbol.

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Hubert the Harris Lion travels the parade route of the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in 2009.

Hubert the Harris Lion travels the parade route of the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in 2009.

Sun-Times files

Chicago is losing one of its long-standing banking names and the leonine mascot that goes with it.

Time was when a kid’s parents could open an account at Harris Bank and come home with a Hubert the Harris Lion plush toy as a reminder of the virtues of saving.

Often called simply “the Harris,” the bank opened here in 1907 and became a leading citizen of La Salle Street. Founded by Norman Wait Harris, the bank has used a lion in its corporate imagery since 1911.

After a takeover in 1984 by Bank of Montreal, the bank and Hubert soldiered on as its U.S. operating unit, BMO Harris.

But the Harris name is being dropped and so is Hubert, said a spokesman for what’s now known as BMO Financial Group. It’s because the company, whose U.S. operations remain in Chicago, has completed its $16.3 billion purchase of San Francisco-based Bank of the West and wants to simplify its branding.

Expanding beyond the Midwest, formally it’ll all be BMO Bank North America going forward, BMO for short. It’ll be the eighth-largest bank in the country and have a footprint in 32 states. In the Chicago area, BMO is No. 2 in regional market share behind Chase, according to federal data.

“As the bank doubles the number of its branches and is taking a top 5 position in 24 U.S. markets, BMO’s footprint and the progress we’re able to help our clients make are growing significantly and our brand is evolving along with it,” spokesman Scott Doll said.

BMO said the rebranding and the melding of the banks’ systems should be done by September.  

Artists at the Leo Burnett ad agency developed Hubert as an avuncular biped with pince-nez glasses and a deep, calming voice. He was popular in television commercials in the 1960s and 1970s. He later turned up as a mascot at sporting events where BMO Harris was a sponsor.

Aside from the stuffed toys, his image was used for cookie jars, clocks and coin banks, items still available on internet resale sites.

A Hubert cookie jar.

A Hubert cookie jar.

Provided

For about 30 years, Hubert had his own dedicated illustrator, Sam Koukios, who made sure the character was friendly and not stuffy. The Sun-Times’ obituary for Koukios in 2009 called him Hubert’s “mane” man.

BMO, meanwhile, remains the biggest bank with a U.S. headquarters in Chicago and now has its name atop the tower at 320 S. Canal St. it moved to last year.

“As for Hubert,” Doll said, “he spends most of his time golfing in Florida these days thanks to the retirement plan he developed in partnership with his BMO financial adviser.”

Word is that Hubert still lionizes the place.

Hubert_Gary_Coleman.jpg

A Hubert ad with Gary Coleman in 1976.

Provided

BMO Financial executives William Downe and Ellen Costello join Hubert to celebrate the lion mascot’s 50th birthday in 2008.

BMO Financial executives William Downe and Ellen Costello join Hubert to celebrate the lion mascot’s 50th birthday in 2008.

Provided

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