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Originally published December 7, 2010 at 6:45 PM | Page modified December 7, 2010 at 9:37 PM

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Umpqua banks on not feeling like a bank

Umpqua Bank's new Capitol Hill branch is the latest evolution of a retail business model the Oregon bank has developed since 1995.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Umpqua Bank

Headquarters: Roseburg, Ore.

Employees: More than 2,100.

Branches: 183 in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

Deposits: $9.4 billion, as of Sept. 30.

Ticker: Nasdaq: UMPQ.

Source: Umpqua Bank

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Visitors to the new Umpqua Bank branch on Capitol Hill can be forgiven if they do a double-take and mistake the place for a fancy hotel, an Internet cafe or an art gallery.

Smartly dressed employees greet them at the door. At a sleek, wide-open counter, customers get a chocolate with their receipt — whether it's for a bank deposit, or for the purchase of board games made by a local business.

In one corner, the public can help themselves to free coffee and free Internet access on three PCs. In another corner is artwork depicting artists with Seattle ties who revolutionized modern dance. Music plays softly in the background.

"We've taken a lot of ideas from Starbucks and applied them to our stores," said Ray Davis, Umpqua's chief executive. But, he said, "We're not a coffeehouse. We're still a bank."

The new branch at 539 Broadway East, slated to open Wednesday, represents the Oregon bank's latest evolution of the retail "store" it's developed since 1995.

Over the next year, that design will be rolled out to five new branches in Seattle, another five in Portland and 19 remodeled Puget Sound branches, said Lani Hayward, Umpqua's executive vice president of creative strategies.

"You need to give people a reason to come in," she said, because customers can handle routine tasks like getting cash and moving funds from their home computers. "How are you going to be relevant?"

It's a question facing banks across the nation. This year was the first in more than a decade that the number of bank branches fell, according to SNL Financial, which tracks the industry.

The weak economy and pressure on banks to boost capital and earnings has contributed to the pullback, said Chris Gill, SNL's director of community bank business development.

Branches need to be smaller, engaged with the community and focused on delivering a memorable experience to customers, he said.

"Umpqua's branch design really epitomizes the approach that banks need to take in the future," Gill said.

Growing position

The bank, a subsidiary of Umpqua Holdings, has a growing market position in Washington, partly thanks to a boost this year from two FDIC-assisted acquisitions — Seattle's Evergreen Bank and Tacoma's Rainier Pacific Bank.

As of Sept. 30, Umpqua had $9.4 billion in deposits, up from $7.5 billion the year before. It ranked eighth in combined deposits among banks in Washington and Oregon as of June 30, according to SNL Financial.

The Capitol Hill store is the first of Umpqua's 183 branches to feature a backlit wall with touch screens that customers can use to compare which bank services are right for them, or to learn about the bank's community-service activities down to the branch level, Hayward said.

At about 2,000 square feet, the store is smallish, on a scale that aims to nurture relationships and conversation — a key strategy for Umpqua. All its employees go through a daylong training from the luxury-hotel operator Ritz Carlton, where they hear stories of how employees nurture and repair relationships with customers.

Even though more consumers are banking online, most still prefer visiting a branch to open an account or discuss complicated services, said Gill.

Videoconferencing

At Umpqua's new branch, customers who want to apply for a loan, discuss investments or open a business account can do so in a private meeting room. Branch employees can patch through financial specialists in downtown Seattle, Portland or Umpqua headquarters in Roseburg, Ore., for a videoconference.

And each branch highlights — even sells — goods made by a local business. The Capitol Hill branch is selling games created by Discovery Bay Games in Pioneer Square.

Branch manager Stacey Krynsky says her staff tries to find ways, large and small, to interact with the neighborhood in what Umpqua calls "handshake marketing."

Sometimes it's buying coffee for everyone at a coffee shop. Sometimes it's driving the Umpqua ice-cream truck to a community event.

The branch staff recently delivered 750 bunches of flowers with Umpqua coasters to doorsteps in the neighborhood.

The coasters carry this message: "It's not every day that you get something nice from a bank."

"Just chill out"

Davis said he wants the branches to be community hubs where people can "just chill out" and forget financial worries.

Along those lines, the bank on Saturday is inviting people to bring their pets in for photos with Santa.

The following Saturday, the branch will host Seattle Children's Theater, which will perform a few songs from "Lyle the Crocodile." Umpqua will provide cookies and milk.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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