It was like Christmas morning. I began my public transit commute and started combing through the news for the day. When what to my wandering eyes should appear but this amazing headline in the Portland Business Journal, “New Umpqua division aims to ‘disrupt’ banking industry.”
Umpqua? That’s my bank! Well, one of them. And from the sounds of it they’re doing something to help startups rethink the banking industry. I can tell, because Umpqua used the word “disrupt.” And disrupt is the word you always use when you’re a corporation looking to work with startups. I know this.
THIS IS SO EXCITING! AND OREGON WOULD BE SO GOOD AT THIS! SQUEEEE!
And then, it hits me. In the first sentence. The lede, as they call it in the biz:
The company that owns the largest Oregon-based bank is opening a Silicon Valley-based subsidiary that will test new financial services technologies.
We have just lost cabin pressure.
WTF? Umpqua Bank, an Oregon-owned bank that is among Oregon’s Most Admired Companies of 2015, is going to be disruptive in Silicon Valley? With all due respect to my friends at the PBJ, this must be a typo.
Nope. It’s in the press release, too.
Again, WTF, Umpqua?
I didn’t even get any further. Nor did I need to. Cue steam coming out of ears.
And so then I had some meetings and I had a few hours to calm down and think through this.
Know what? I’m still pissed. But now I’m both pissed and I’ve had time to think about it. So allow me, if you will, to provide some basic reasons as to why Umpqua should rethink this poor decision. And why Umpqua would be much better off starting this venture in their own backyard.
0) Don’t even get me started that it’s called “Pivotus.”
1) This isn’t about decrying the Bay Area.
I don’t have any desire to try besmirch the Bay Area or argue their dominance in the world of startups. It is, without a doubt, the hub of activity in terms of startup activity and available capital and innovative thinking. I’m not arguing that, at all. The Bay Area is momentum.
And that’s why I’m arguing that that is the very reason you don’t go there to do something like this.
Exactly what kind of presence does Umpqua even have in the Bay Area? I mean, I hear they have a San Jose branch. Have they not heard about the prices down there? And the level of buzz down there? How are they, as a small player among giants, going to get above that noise?
There are a ton more questions there but let’s just tie it off with “If all of your friends jumped off of a bridge, would you Umpqua?” All I know for sure is that it wouldn’t be a bridge in Oregon.
2) Some of the most interesting and “disruptive” activity in fintech is happening right under your free ice cream wielding nose.
If I were a bank in Oregon, you know what I would be watching with great interest? Portland. Hell, every bank should be watching Portland.
We’ve got Simple. We have SEED. We have Mirador. We have any number of interesting credit unions. We’re rabid about Bitcoin. We have Chroma.
Speaking of… did I mention that our entire damn state thought through how to reinvent getting capital to entrepreneurs? Also did I mention that a number of those companies mentioned above have been through startup accelerators that have taught them how to engage with innovation projects like this?
3) You have peers in Portland who are already well phrased at collaborating with startups.
You’re a corporation trying to interact with startups and trying to use startup thinking to be more innovative. Hmm. That sounds interesting. I wish there were some companies you could use as role models or for peer support.
There are. Right here in Portland. Like Daimler, Intel, Jaguar Land Rover, Nike, R/GA, and Wieden+Kennedy, to name a few. Heck, even the City of Portland has experience working with startups.
Not to mention the guy who used to be in charge of product innovation for Target and the dude who invented the wiki and helped Nike get innovative around data live here. Here. Not the Bay Area. Here.
The folks who have been there and done that are right here, already. And they’re accessible. Why are you looking elsewhere?
4) There is existing Oregon infrastructure with which you could engage, literally overnight.
While I would love to see this happen in Portland, honestly, it could happen any number of interesting places in Oregon. Have you seen what’s happening in Bend? What about Eugene? Corvallis? Independence? I mean, come on, Umpqua.
Not to mention that PIE and RAIN and Portland Seed Fund and Oregon Angel Fund and Technology Association of Oregon and Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and TiE and investors and mentors and startups and talent are all waiting for you. Right here. Ready to collaborate.
Plus Portland State, Oregon State, and the University of Oregon. Who have all been ramping up their participation in the startup community.
So many resources. Affordable, accessible, and available.
This is just a rant. I’m sure decisions have been made and ships have sailed. But if there’s even the slightest chance that there’s still some wiggle room on this decision, I’d strongly encourage you to rethink it.
Because missing an opportunity like this is just sad. For everyone who could have potentially been involved. Umpqua included.
You, Umpqua, have an opportunity to do something truly meaningful for the community you call home. An opportunity to truly put your money where your mouth is. And a chance to be a critical component of the amazing startup scene we have going here.
And I’m willing to bet that you could pull it all off for a fraction of what your Bay Area office space alone is costing you. With far broader impact for your company and your community.
But I get it. People look elsewhere all of the time. Which is likely what I’ll be doing for my banking needs.
[…] Mirador always kept a relatively low profile around town, but the stuff they were building was really compelling. My words not theirs, they were creating ways for folks to judge the trustworthiness of people applying for loans that didn’t have to rely on significant financial histories or impeccable credit scores. And they were part of a small but mighty fintecch startup cluster here in Portland. […]
Thank you Rick! I know you wouldn’t call out an Oregon company lightly and I think you made a wise choice here. Umpqua pushes for market differentiation by touting their community values–now is the time for them to show depositors they mean it.
Umpqua screwed up my business banking so many times I ended up going back to Bank of America. I don’t need to be offered free coffee when I go to a bank or some hipster lounge to work on my laptop, I just want to be able to manage my money easily and without constant errors on the bank’s part.
Amy: Providence was founded in Portland and has since moved their corporate base to Renton, and their venture capital group is in Seattle. Isn’t this a similar path? Correct me if I’m wrong, I’m just looking for perspective in other industries.
Unbelievable! Thanks for the rant.
Great read, now imagine how the IT folks at Umpqua feel. *sigh*.
The right financial team with foresight could build an entire state of innovation in Oregon. Imagine innovation in The Dalles, Pendleton, Prineville, LaGrande, Medford, and beyond (these towns mentioned either have a college or an existing high-tech installation of some sort (think Apple, Google, Facebook)).
I completely agree with you Rick. This is not the way to covey the image of “your local neighborhood bank.”
@Steve That would be awesome. I’ll drop you a note.
Hey Rick: Sounds like we need to grab a drink. 😉 You around next Tuesday or Wednesday evening?
Marcus, give me a shout (email@example.com)
Enough is enough, I have had it with these mother-F’ing snakes on this mother-F’ing plane!
For what it’s worth, Chroma is actively seeking a regional bank partner to collaborate with for a big innovation project. If anyone at Umpqua is reading this and wants to talk, email me: marcus [at] chroma.io.
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