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Umpqua redesigns retail banking

Umpqua Bank in Portland, Oregon, has succeeded in making bank branches profitable. It is now the largest community bank on the US west coast. CEO Ray Davis talks of giving customers an entirely different experience. How far can he go?

Bank CEOs from Asia, Russia, Europe, Australia and within the US have trekked to Portland, Oregon, to pay to hear Ray Davis talk. He is the chief executive of a community bank called Umpqua Bank that was established in 1953 to cash cheques and lend money to local lumberjacks. Its market capitalization is just $1.8 billion.

Yet this bank with an unusual name is doing to banking what Apple did to mobile technology. "Margins are shrinking faster than a speeding bullet. It’s a death spiral to compete on price, and everyone claims to offer great service. You need a different value proposition," says Davis. "I want to disrupt banking and give customers an entirely different experience."

And he is. Umpqua now has 200 branches across the US west coast, and is a favourite among analysts. Last year its net income was up 37%. It is also the only bank to be named in Fortune magazine's list of 100 best places to work for the last seven years in a row.

Listening to Davis speak is more like listening to a TED talk than being at the Basle Committee. He talks about how small tweaks make big differences to a company’s bottom line, how empowering employees leads to results and how culture emerges rather than is built in.

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