Here’s How Umpqua Bank is Advancing the ‘Bank-Store’ Concept with Yoga Classes and Snacks

As online banking continues to rise in prominence, it’s more than fair to speculate – as many credible commentators are – that the future of the neighborhood bricks-and-mortar branch is in question. Just last year, for instance, financial services research firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KBW) even went so far as to suggest – off the back of reports that US bank branches had declined to the lowest levels since 2005 – that the mass closures we’ve already seen are just the start. Over the next decade, KBW said, as many as half of all bank branches in the US could throw down the shutters once and for all.

It’s a trend that’s indeed acknowledged wholeheartedly by Umpqua Bank – a Western US bank with more than 350 branches in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada. As Brian Read, Executive Vice President of Retail Banking at Umpqua, puts it: “Transaction volume, industrywide, for activities like depositing a check, cashing a check, or making a transfer are going down at about 5% per year. Instead, people are using digital, banking online, banking on their phones.”

However, despite the fact that digital banking is undeniably gaining untold ground over the traditional brick-and-mortar process, matters are complicated by the fact that 84% of banking customers still visit their local branch at least “occasionally,” according to a Federal Reserve report.

Customers still value their local branch.

Although today they enjoy the convenience of being able to take care of simple matters like depositing checks or tracking account balances via mobile apps and website clicks, when it comes to more complicated matters – loans, mortgages, retirement planning, etc. – they still want to talk to someone in-person.

The situation perhaps suggests that banks would in fact be unwise to shutter branches at the rate that KBW warns might happen. While there’s still demand to service customers in person, closing the doors of branches means closing the doors on customers, who may very well decide to take their business elsewhere. Clearly, a more innovative solution is needed – and Umpqua Bank believe they have it.

In a Digital World, Human Interactions Are Critical

It can be easy to become distracted into thinking that the shift towards digital banking equates to a decrease in the importance of in-branch customer interactions. In fact, the digital upheaval actually increases the importance, precisely because interactions are far less frequent.

Today, these in-person touchpoints count for more than they ever did. When a customer is only meeting a banker face-to-face once, maybe twice a year, the real, human relationship that’s struck between brand and consumer at these meetings must be resounding, for the sense of trust established must carry through to all subsequent digital experiences.

Customers still want branches because they still want real people – real human beings – in charge of their finances. And it is only when they meet a great, helpful, and highly-knowledgeable employee in a branch that all those subsequent digital transactions begin to feel a little more personal. Each time they log-in to their online accounts, they are able to picture that warm and helpful individual, who they know they will be able to call on should they need advice or something go wrong. Indeed, in an increasingly digitized world, human interactions are more critical than ever.

And this is exactly why Umpqua Bank strives to create branch experiences that are as engaging as possible. In fact, Umpqua doesn’t use the word “branches” – it refers to its outlets as “stores” instead. “Our locations are about community and experience as well as banking,” Read explains, “and we believe it’s important that our stores add value beyond the transactional.”

A Banking Experience that’s “Approachable, Engaging and Fun”

Many banks today are attempting to tackle the disruption caused by digital banking by stripping down the branch – sometimes, as in the case with Bank of America, rendering them as completely employee-less spaces where humans are replaced with machines. But Umpqua is essentially taking the opposite approach – reimagining the branch as a community center, where people are invited to hang out, use the meeting rooms for their own business projects, or even for yoga classes.

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“Finances are intimidating for people, and banks have followed that model by creating an intimidating and chore-like experience,” says Eve Callahan, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications at Umpqua. “Why can’t we create a banking experience that’s approachable, engaging, and fun?”

The result for Umpqua Bank’s locations is that hotel- and retail-like elements have been introduced to the branch environment. Customers who enter an Umpqua branch are offered coffee, cookies, and chocolate coins, on which they can munch away while browsing products for sale from a rotating roster of local companies, or while simply grabbing a book from the free reading library and chill out.

“We host events in our stores like yoga classes and movie nights for kids,” says Callahan. “The store is a place for people to come browse, shop, enjoy free Wi-Fi or sit and read. It becomes a community hub.”

The Universal Associate

It’s a move that certainly serves to get customers – and potential new customers – through the door, but for Umpqua, the experience it’s offering doesn’t stop there. Importantly, on top of all the quirks and freebies, Umpqua wants to deliver a first-class banking service to its in-store customers – and nowhere does this comes through more than in its “universal associate” model.

Essentially, the model takes the form of a “generalist” staffing approach, whereby every employee is trained to help customers with every banking product or service query that they may have. It means that no customer will ever be told that they can’t be helped because a particular, specialist employee is out of the office or busy dealing with another customer – all employees are equipped to help everyone.

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The model we’ve developed is built around the universal associate,” Read explains. “We bring folks in and teach them how to do everything in the store. Our universal associates are able to open an account, help you with resolving an issue, help you take out a loan, and more. You'll never walk in and ask about a loan and hear ‘Well, Julie's out to lunch, and we don't have a loan person here today.’ That doesn’t happen at Umpqua stores.”

There’s Hope for the Branch Yet

Umpqua branches – or rather stores – are designed to give the bank bottom-line advantages. Through the opening up and hiring out of locations as community hubs, the spaces are put to use even out of banking hours, while the activities that go on inside welcome people through the doors and create an atmosphere that takes the intimidating, “chore-like” experience out of personal finances. On top of this, because all Umpqua associates are equipped with a broad and strong knowledge-base, they’re able to advise customers about services and products who, in other banking models, might have been sent away simply because the employee didn’t have the appropriate skillset to deal with the request.

If the future of the branch really is hanging so perilously in the balance as so many commentators seem to be speculating, then Umpqua might just have the model that could tip it back in a more promising direction.

The last word goes to Brian Read.

“We expend a lot of effort and energy teaching our universal associates to be good at everything, not just loans or deposits, but online banking, and depository investment. This allows them, where appropriate, to go beyond simply responding to your immediate need; while you're with us, we can find out if there’s anything we're missing – any way we can save you money, make you money, or save you time.”

Make sure to also download the Future Branches agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, & sessions planned for this year.z

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