Why Umpqua Bank Invested in a Traveling Art Exhibit

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A bank can still create reasons for people to happily stand in line.

Umpqua Bank, which in the past has hosted yoga classes and book readings in its branches, is now promoting its brand with a traveling digital art exhibit. In mid-November, the $22 billion-asset bank debuted the unusual interactive art display, called "Exhibit: Growth," in an eye-catching geodesic dome in a park in its home city of Portland, Oregon. It has already drawn lines lasting upwards of an hour.

Visitors can create digital "tree portraits" based on their movements inside the dome superimposed on their own photos. They are also greeted by Umpqua associates who can answer financial questions and help collect information from prospective customers. Consumers give the bank their contact details if they want to have a business conversation at a later date.

The exhibit, which the bank plans to bring to San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle and other cities next year, is a way for Umpqua to appear inviting and suggest to consumers that the bank could help foster their financial growth. The traveling art show costs Umpqua less than traditional advertising, and it comes as other financial institutions are experimenting with ways to reach consumers beyond running print ads or simply waiting for people to walk into the branches.

PNC Bank, for example, made an industry splash last year when it opened a pop-up branch in Atlanta to foster brand awareness in a market where the Pittsburgh bank was not well known. JPMorgan Chase hired food trucks to pass out burritos as consumers lined up to get the newest Apple smartphones in September. (The bank was one of the first to make Apple Pay available through its mobile app.) And Bank of New Zealand created a website with an app that interprets web camera-equipped consumers' emotional reactions to varied financial scenarios.

"The broader pattern is fewer customers are just sauntering into the branch," said Sam Kilmer, senior director of Cornerstone Advisors.

As branch transactions decline, "you can't wait for the conversations to come to us," he said. "As bankers, we have to go out and make those opportunities."

In Umpqua's case, the art exhibit is also a way for the bank to generate interest in a subject that can be considered quite dull.

"Banking is a low interest category," said Eve Callahan, a spokeswoman for Umpqua Bank. "[It's] not one of those areas people want to think about."

Callahan would not say how many visitors to Exhibit: Growth provided their details to talk with the bank, other than to say the number was more than Umpqua expected.

The bank wants to break through the advertising noise by finding ways to start conversations that are more personalized and often surprising.

"We don't believe traditional bank advertising is all that effective any longer," said Callahan.

Connecting with customers in unique ways has long been part of Umpqua's DNA, said Deb Stewart, an independent banking consultant.

"That's really who they are," Stewart said.

And in a way, the exhibit is somewhat akin to a pop-up branch but more subtle. Sales talks are for later, but the purpose is one and the same: to engage with people who haven't necessarily made the move to connect with the company.

Exhibit: Growth is the first expression of a direction the bank plans to explore more and more.

"We have some fun ideas in the works," said Callahan.

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