One of the more clever metaphors dreamed up by Umpqua involved an outreach program to small businesses. To draw attention to the loan program, Umpqua set up a parallel program geared to local children, inviting them to apply for a lemonade stand start-up kit from the bank. “We felt that the lemonade stand was a perfect metaphor for small business, because in many ways it represents the original small business,” says Jim Haven of the Seattle design firm Creature, which helped create the lemonade program for Umpqua. Creature designed thirty top-notch lemonade stands (collapsible, on wheels, made of aluminum, and quite stylish looking). To apply, kids filled out an application form written in crayon, designed by Creature to run in local newspapers. Those applicants who won a stand also received ten dollars in capital and a starter kit with tips on launching a business. The lemonade stand program made a big splash in the community and was all over the local news. Simultaneously, it drew a lot of attention to Umpqua’s small business program — and lured in more than two thousand new business customers.
From a bottom-line standpoint, design helped Umpqua grow organically — and without having to take the financial risks that got so many other banks into trouble. When Davis took charge of the sleepy regional bank, it had $150 million in deposits, and he was able to take that up to more than $7 billion, with nearly 150 branches/stores. Like everyone in the banking industry, Umpqua has taken its lumps during the financial downturn, but its overall performance has remained steady, even as other small, independent banks have collapsed. The slow-local-trusted angle has become a strong selling point in turbulent times.
Davis thinks of what he’s done as an attempt to “redesign the delivery system of bank services.” Umpqua’s still doing what banks do, but it’s getting those services to the customer in a different way by creating a very different experience inside the bank. In the process of doing this, Umpqua is also designing a complex and evolving relationship with people who now come to the bank for the personal service, the activities, the sense of social connection. While other banks try to compete on, say, CD rates, Umpqua has given people a variety of reasons to keep coming, most of which have nothing to do with rates.
It’s worth noting that Davis happens to love what he does, in part because he doesn’t see himself as a banker but more as a showman, concierge, community organizer, proud shopkeeper, and orchestral maestro. He doesn’t really see himself as a designer, he says. But he should.
— Warren Berger
Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2009 by Warren Berger.