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Sidonie Sawyer Headshot

Incredible Bank

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How often do you see those two words together? Rarely indeed. Banks are not necessarily what we call leisure places, final destinations, or halls of fun. Nowadays, banks are not even on our list of places to visit when we are out running errands, with the online banking system most of us now take advantage of, no need to stop inside a bank building any longer -- at the most we use the ATM outdoor and that is it.

First Bank of the United States, opened in Philadelphia in 1791, was the very first establishment of its kind. In 1852 Wells Fargo Bank was founded in the pioneer frontier land of California, in order for miners to store their gold nuggets before they became bars, and was used for banking but also for transporting valuable goods in their risky carriage, often the preys of high roads bandits. We have all seen fantastic western movies and how dangerous the West was then (still is in some parts.)

Banks of the World have been controversial establishments since their birth, to say the least. Some people hate them, some people trust them and everybody in between has an opinion of what they should be/do/offer. Sometimes frustrating, often a chore we would like to skip entirely, the virtual banks have come to make us feel safe about not having to go to the bank.

Now comes a bank that, believe it or not, offers more than banking to its extremely loyal customers. A bank where actual banking might very well be the lesser activity you will entertain there. Think fun, relaxed, grassroots, bohemian, user-friendly, hippie, convivial -- you must admit those are not adjectives you would normally use when talking about your bank.

A bank with benefits, but not the ones you may automatically think from your bank: the Umpqua Bank of Portland, Ore., allows community groups to exploit its branches' space hosting yoga and knitting classes, pottery exhibits, dog fairs, even an Oktoberfest. In one of their branches, a creative manager installed a gaming console to large monitors hanging on the wall. Many other creative outlet have taking place at the Umpquas, with more a feel of community center than financial and business location.

Umpqua Bank has 364 branches across Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada and Idaho, and intends to add more, in a shaky economy where we have seen more banks closing than opening. Still very serious about your money and your needs, regular banking services are of course still offered, but tellers here will distribute a chocolate with each cash withdrawal -- I wonder what they will think of next for deposits!

The success of Umpqua is proven after doubling in size in April this year, reaching $22 billions in assets. It certainly shows that customer service, friendliness and all-around good neighboring practices are not dead at all, and are even making a come back. In a society more and more isolated by the social media that keep us inside or remote from humanity, maybe we need a little more pampering and more connection with fellow citizens.

We used to go to the bakery, the butcher, the hardware store, the flower shop, chit-chatting away about the day temperature or the upsetting news, and now we buy it all at super-mega-uber markets where we don't even have to say a word or interfere with a person.

They may be on to something when they answer the phone with this line: "Umpqua, the world's greatest bank."