Certainly the message you would get if you were to visit the Umpqua branch in Portlandâ€™s trendy Pearl District neighborhood seems only vaguely related to the mundane business of certificates of deposit, checking accounts and loans. With free wi-fi access, Umpqua brand coffee, a spacious seating area and flat-screen television monitors, the place has been designed to suggest a stylish hotel lobby where youâ€™re tempted to hang out (and, perhaps, read a tastefully printed brochure about certificates of deposit, checking accounts and loans). This and other Umpqua branches also serve as the setting for things like sewing groups, yoga classes and movie nights. Actually, the word â€œbranchâ€ is not used in Umpquaâ€™s official internal terminology: the bank operates 127 â€œstoresâ€ in Oregon, California and Washington. As Lani Hayward, who oversees â€œcreative strategies for the company,â€ explains, Umpqua sees itself as a retailer.
The reason for this strategy is the same one that leads companies across many sectors to play the lifestyle card: a proliferation of competitors peddling largely interchangeable wares. If a bank wants to stand out, itâ€™s fairly difficult to do so with the financial products it offers. It can, however, differentiate the manner in which it sells and packages those products. This is more or less the approach that Umpquaâ€™s C.E.O., Ray Davis, has taken over the past dozen years or so. When he started, Umpqua was just another small regional bank, with about $150 million in deposits. Today (because of acquisitions, in addition to building new branches), the figure has increased to more than $7 billion.
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