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How To Infuse Banking With Fresh Thinking: An Interview with Lani Hayward of Umpqua Bank

April 22, 2016|0 min read
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We caught up with Lani Hayward, EVP of Creative Strategies at Umpqua Bank, to talk about the innovative ways that Umpqua has navigated the shift to the digital age. From making use of a 40-foot dome to simplifying a 147-step loan process, Umpqua is consistently leading the pack when it comes to fresh thinking. Hayward shows how other financial institutions can replicate Umpqua’s efforts below.

How has the organizational structure at Umpqua shifted in the last decade?

In the last 10 years, all financial institutions have witnessed a shift in traffic as transactions increasingly migrate to digital channels. Fortunately for Umpqua, we've long held that people need a reason beyond the transactional to visit us, and this philosophy has given us a leg up. We recognize that in the digital age there’s still a need to think about interactions rather than mere transactions, and we’re building an organizational structure that can support this philosophy.

On a leadership level, years ago we hired a CIO who had previously worked with both the financial industry and startups. He has organized our team with agile processes in mind and has allowed us to move in the right direction. Overall, even though we’re in the midst of major system changes, our charter still centers on the customer experience in whatever channel the customer prefers.

How do you create a value proposition in the digital channel?

It starts with hiring practices. We've always looked to hire people who have a background beyond banking, and we’ve kept that standard with employees who work on digital. We want people who understand technology really well and who aren’t afraid of change — people who have worked in an Apple store, for instance. We also make sure our new hires are socially connected, which helps them have conversations with our customers in a different way. With the right people in place, we’re better able to provide value to end users.

So you actively take ideas from other industries?

We look beyond our industry all the time, and this has been key to our success. We still see ourselves as a retailer, but we recognize that we can take ideas from industries such as hospitality and entertainment. We also recognize that technology is becoming a commodity and the only way you'll be able to differentiate is by wrapping your brand around your technology to create a unique experience for your customers.

What retailers do you believe offer a good mix of digital and in-store experiences?

Nordstrom has a reputation of delivering great customer service, and they’re working now to connect the online and offline experience. That's really the key, helping customers understand that we recognize and look out for them in all channels. Apple also does a great job on a number of levels. They understand the commoditization of what they sell and they always embrace the customer experience in the design first and differentiate themselves in the process. They deliver in a beautiful setting, whether online or in a physical location, and they service people with easiest route possible. You have to create a very beautiful and simple experience that allows people to get what they need while enjoying the experience along the way.

How is Umpqua creating these experiences?

We always work to recognize customers when they're calling, walking in, or visiting us online. The trick for us is to surprise and delight the customer at every opportunity. So let’s say that the customer wants to move money from one bank account to another. We use data to make that experience intuitive and personal.

We know that if we lead with service, then the sale will happen. We're focused on designing how that happens in an online environment — getting the user to feel like they're part of a community and have that sense of ownership. We want to give an experience that’s so good that our customers tell someone else about it.

What roles have shifted most dramatically in the last five years?

We have more developers and more relationships with third party vendors. For efficiency’s sake we’ve had to balance what we’re going to own and what we’re going to buy off the shelf. Above all, we want to own the customer experience, even on the digital front. We want our brand to be consistent and front of mind.

To do this, my team has expanded our UX/UI digital support development and strategic digital marketing teams. A social media team was also created in the last 5 years to build and support an online community. For us to compete we feel that differentiated delivery is our number one priority, and we want to extend our culture of service online as well as in person.

How do you empower team members, especially those who are not digitally savvy, to succeed during the shift to digital?

Two years ago we knew we were getting into a pretty significant shift, so we took a step back to reconsider the brand and asked ourselves what words we would use to describe Umpqua now. We had been known as being playful and friendly for quite some time, but we also knew there was a savvy side to our bank that more often surfaced in the commercial banking side and not consistently in our stores or online. We decided that we wanted to be known across the board as being savvy, and so we made changes to make that possible.

Setting up opposing slogans like “playful and savvy” has been very useful to us. A commercial banker might be savvy and know their stuff, but to truly fit in at Umpqua they must also be playful. Balancing the tensions between these behaviors is critical.

We’ve also increased our efforts to analyze our processes. For instance, our commercial banking team recently analyzed their loan process by getting into a room and placing sticky notes on the walls to visually represent every single step. When they were done they found that the process consisted of 147 steps, which was far too complicated. So they pulled together the frontend and backend teams and thought about how they might change the process from an end user standpoint. Efforts like these are pulling Umpqua forward.

What about efforts to help customers improve their personal financial health? Can you talk through what Umpqua is doing on this front?

There's a lot of shame and fear when it comes personal finances, which is too bad because on a personal level there are things we all could be doing better. In fact 77% of Americans say they are afraid to have a conversation about money. And 70% of those people say they feel a whole lot better when they do.

To help fix this problem, we at Umpqua have experimented with several out-of-the-box awareness building concepts. For instance, we created an interactive digital experience called Exhibit Growth that took place in a 40-foot dome. Over ten thousand people have walked through it and experienced an artistic and entertaining digital interaction that helped them think about how they grow in their personal lives and the emotionality they go through when they're trying to reach their full potential.

We also have a podcast called Open Account. It consists of very raw, personal dialogues with individuals, some famed and some not, about their interactions with money — losing it, making it, living with it, and so on. We put our guests on the spot and ask them to tell us what goes on in their heads when it comes to financial decisions. It's not like Investing 101 since these are people who don't necessarily know how to deal with money. Instead each episode consists of finding out what our guests have done, where they tripped up, where they succeeded. It's very memorable and human. And that's really what it's about — trying to open up, stop the shame surrounding money, and look at financial wellness in a different way.

I really like everything you’ve said about how if you lead with service the sale will follow. That seems to be a theme of Umpqua. Any final thoughts on that?

First, don't be afraid to bring in people who may not have “banker” on their resume. You can teach them those skills. Second, think like a startup, asking yourself how you would run things differently if you were. Third, always test the customer experience, making sure it matches your brand and your specific value proposition. Fourth, start to experiment. Recognize that it’s not a risk to take seven people in a location and say, “we want you to analyze industry trends and invent a fresh angle on the banking experience.”

You have to experiment or you risk not being around in the future. 

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