Umpqua Bank is the West Coast’s largest independent community bank, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. The bank calls its branches stores and designed them as inviting spaces for people to come in, read the paper, surf the Internet, and enjoy a cup of coffee. That approach of using the bank branch as a community hub has been incredibly successful. Umpqua Bank has grown from 5 locations and $140 million in assets in 1994, when it moved to this community design, to more than 330 stores and $24 billion in assets today.
Umpqua’s approach to banking is in many ways an answer to a simple question: what does it take to have a conversation about money? The bank is doing just that with a highly-acclaimed podcast called Open Account. Hosted by Sunchin Pak, the podcast tackles tough issues like how divorced couples handle finances or, my personal favorite, an interview with Neil Gabler about the secret shame of the middle class.
On this episode of the Tradestreaming podcast, I talk to Umpqua’s Lani Hayward, EVP of creative strategies about the community bank’s acclaimed podcast and how it fits into the firm’s conversation with its customers. We talk about the genesis of the project, all the way through measuring its impact.
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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.
Why Umpqua launched a podcast
The bank sees marketing as part of everything it does. It’s about brand and culture of a company being the same. Banking can, and should, be very different. About 20 years ago, we started changing the status quo of how banking was presented. Banks have been austere, uninviting, and frankly, boring businesses. Umpqua set out to change this intimidating experience into something more welcoming. We changed our branches into what we call stores. We see it as our responsibility to perpetuate the health and well-being of the community we serve. With that as a background, this podcast experience lends itself to a conversation that was really important — one about money.
A valuable conversation, not advertising
Podcasts are a great format to convey, in a story-like way, some very meaningful and emotional pieces of information. The beauty of the podcast is that you’re not advertising or pushing things at people. People self-select to listen to this and you have to honor that experience. The takeaways must be valuable. We started to look deeper at our behavior around money. It’s the number one stress point for Americans. It affects 92 percent of us, yet 77 percent don’t do anything about it. Banks are best positioned to do something about these insights. We started Open Account over a year ago. We wanted to do make sure we had a topic that was really authentic to us, that we could own, that we’re passionate about.