Umpqua isn’t just a finan­cial insti­tu­tion. It’s a lifestyle. And now a music producer.

Certainly the message you would get if you were to visit the Umpqua branch in Portland’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 you’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 “branch” is not used in Umpqua’s offi­cial internal termi­nology: the bank oper­ates 127 “stores” in Oregon, Cali­fornia and Wash­ington. As Lani Hayward, who over­sees “creative strate­gies for the company,” 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, it’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.

According to Hayward, the central idea of Umpqua’s image is “commu­nity hub.” The company trains its employees through a program offered by the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, with the goal of providing service that’s better than what you might expect from a bank. And it gives its managers the autonomy to, for example, stay open during a snow­storm if the manager thinks the customers will want that. But the commu­nity-hub notion also plays a role in the curious-sounding deci­sion to start selling CD’s (the kind with music on them) through a program called Discover Local Music.

Read The New York Times Maga­zine article.