Article tiré de la revue The Economist.
The counter just inside the entrance to the branch of Umpqua Bank offers locally made hand cream rather than deposit slips. It has recently been used to peddle pottery, bike components and glasses frames, among other local products; eager local merchants have booked up the stand for the next year and a half. Much of the rest of the branch is put to unusual uses as well, including art exhibitions, yoga classes and “stitch and bitch” sessions (group knitting). At another branch located near an old-persons’ home, the manager hooked up a gaming console to large monitors hanging on the wall to create a popular virtual bowling league.
Umpqua Bank has 364 branches spread across Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Idaho, and it intends to add more. This sort of expansion runs contrary to accepted wisdom, which holds that cheap competition from internet banking is killing off the physical sort. To the extent that branches still make economic sense, runs the general view, it is in clumps (for efficient marketing), filled with aggressive salespeople pushing ancillary products.
Perhaps as a result, few customers warm to their local bank branch. Most offer similar products in similarly drab surroundings. Streets crowded with them are dull during the day and dead after 5pm. Visiting them is tolerable at best and often tedious, thanks to long queues and tiresome paperwork.
Umpqua, in contrast, is trying to create outlets that neighbourhoods will welcome and people will want to visit. It attempts to make even the most mundane transaction a treat. Tellers, for example, hand out a chocolate with each cash withdrawal. It goes to great lengths to cut the time and form-filling involved in obtaining a mortgage—typically an agonising process. Prominently displayed at every branch is a phone which connects directly to the desk of Ray Davis, the bank’s president. If he is at his desk, he answers. Typically, he says, the caller just wants to know if the line is genuine.
The bank prides itself on doing everything differently. Instead of sending out junk mail offering consumer loans, Umpqua employees attached small flyers to potted plants and placed them on 1,700 doorsteps in the neighbourhood they were targeting. Every day begins with a “motivational moment” (read something inspiring, play marshmallow dodgeball or hold a trivia quiz; do not refer to corporate memos or procedures). Phone calls are answered with the words “Umpqua, the world’s greatest bank”.
Umpqua’s most unusual trait, however, may be its growth. In the early 1990s, it had only six branches. Its biggest expansion came in April, when it doubled in size by acquiring Sterling, a regional rival. Mr Davis believes branches are vital for the cheap funds they bring in through deposits and the opportunity they provide to market more profitable products than current accounts. Such cross-selling is easier when customers enjoy visiting. The bank’s appeal also allows it to pay a little less interest than the norm on deposits, and charge a bit more on loans, giving it high lending margins. Barclays reckons that by the end of next year, its return on equity will be 14%, far above the average.
Umpqua’s success suggests that banking is not merely about hard numbers. But instilling its culture at Sterling, a bank of equal size, and sustaining it through further expansion will be hard. The combination has $22 billion in assets, placing it at the small end of large. Regulators will begin paying more attention, and when Umpqua passes $50 billion in assets—not a far-fetched prospect—scrutiny will increase exponentially. Banks subjected to this level of red tape describe it as all-consuming. Regulators often treat apparent strengths, such as the higher interest rates Umpqua is able to charge borrowers, as inherently suspicious.
Umpqua has shown an ability to delight customers and avoid the censure that has bedevilled its bigger competitors. Its rise is evidence that a small bank can indeed be different. It must now prove that a large one can be as well.
Correction: an earlier version of this article said that Umpqua Bank had branches in Utah. We should have said Idaho. This was corrected on June 12th.