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.