‘Becoming a mobile-first, customer centric bank’ – Felimy Greene, Regional Head of Customer Franchise, Citi Asia Pacific and EMEA


Banks have to radically transform if they are to meet changing consumer expectations as they continue to embrace the convenience of mobile.

Technology has evolved at an extraordinary pace since the invention of the silicon chip in 1961. But its global consumer reach and its impact on businesses has been most dramatic in the last decade.

Just over ten years ago, Apple launched the first iPhone. Promoting it as “a revolutionary product … that changes everything”, Steve Jobs may have sounded hyperbolic, but what has happened since with the global adoption of smartphones has not only proven him right, it has resulted in a socioeconomic transformation that is unprecedented in speed and scale. No other technology has achieved mass penetration globally so quickly. Smartphone adoption has massively outpaced electrification, the telephone, radio, television and the car.

Because of its software-based flexibility, its impact has been far more profound than many of us would ever have imagined.

Consumers haven’t simply adjusted to this new mobile technology, they have embraced its convenience and made it their own, directing its evolution by changing how they socialise, access information, buy goods and conduct business. The past decade has been underscored by smartphones and tablets becoming the biggest driver of business technology and automation, with the consumer at the focal point.

Pre-smartphone, it was largely the other way around, with business computers being adopted for consumer use. Apple was the notable early standout, taking a consumer-first approach with an obsessive focus on experience design and quality that would ultimately make them the front-runner of the mobile technology era.

Asia has seen explosive growth in mobile adoption and now has the world’s highest levels of mobile use, with many of the regions’ emerging markets having bypassed the wireline/desktop phase of the internet revolution, jumping straight to mobile on a mass scale. Asia has also evolved some unique social/e-commerce ecosystems such as WeChat, LINE and Kakao that have achieved near-ubiquitous adoption in some markets.

The past decade has also been marked by waves of investor-backed financial technology or “fintech” start-ups, seeking billion dollar fortunes by disrupting the financial services value-chain. These companies bring a laser-like focus on specific consumer needs and develop solutions using leading-edge technologies that give them speed to market, scalability and a highly competitive cost structure. In 2016 alone, venture capitalists poured an estimated $20 billion globally into such companies.

An existential challenge

With all of this change, what consumers have come to expect from brands in terms of convenience, speed and value has undergone a fundamental and irreversible shift.

For the financial services industry, and for banks like Citi with an urban and affluent customer base, these changes present an existential challenge to become as agile and efficient as their fintech competitors, and to remain valuable and relevant to the consumers of tomorrow.

Enabling a mobile lifestyle

Mobile is no longer just another technology – it has become a lifestyle. At Citi, we are transforming our business to a mobile-first model. In the last 18 months we have substantially upgraded Citi Mobile, bringing most of the transactional and account management capabilities of our Online platform into the convenient experience of our customer’s smartphone.

We have since added a range of innovations including fingerprint authentication, Citi Mobile Snapshot, Citi Mobile Token and a new mobile brokerage experience. With more exciting updates on the way, our efforts are delivering strong results, with over 40 per cent growth in customers using Citi Mobile in the past year alone.

Open banking

Transforming Citi to be future-compatible is about much more than new apps, however. We believe that disruption from fintechs is the new normal, and while they may be a threat to our business, we also see great potential in opening up our platform and collaborating with them for mutual opportunity. To enable this, we launched our API Developer portal in October 2016, publishing the most comprehensive APIs of any major bank in Asia. Through this, partners can now access over 80 per cent of our digital banking capabilities, creating a new world of possibilities for Citi, our partners and our customers.

Our focus on partnerships is intensifying, and we have forged alliances with emerging digital players as well as established brands that are integral to our customers’ lifestyles. In the last
year we have launched Citi experiences within WeChat in China and LINE in Thailand, enabling customers to access their accounts conveniently within these popular platforms. We have also partnered with fast growing digital brands, such as Grab and Lazada, marketing with them and enabling unique customer experiences such as instant Pay with Points. Another exciting outcome of our open banking strategy has been with commercial partners such as Qantas, who have been able to rapidly build and deploy a world-class mobile app for their frequent flyer loyalty card customers, leveraging Citi’s platform and capabilities through APIs.

Co-creating the future

At Citi, we believe strongly in co-creating new digital experiences and we now regularly engage with customers to design and develop new applications. The first product of this co-creative approach was announced on 7 September in Singapore. It is a global first for Citi – a chat-bot on Facebook Messenger that uses artificial intelligence to enable conversational banking with natural language.

This is an exciting new experience that builds on the work we’ve done with WeChat in China and LINE in Thailand. “Citi Bot” can handle a range of customer enquires including account balances and transaction details. We will beta-test it with several hundred staff and customers in Singapore before releasing to the whole market and the rest of the region.

Future compatibility

The fundamentals of future success for banks lie in their understanding of customers’ needs and the fast-changing context in which they must be met. Survival requires the rapid digitisation of the entire front-end experience, enabling customers to instantly self-serve wherever and whenever they want. It also requires the end-to-end automation of the internal operations of the bank, to deliver the performance expected by customers and the financial efficiency demanded by shareholders.

To really succeed, banks will have to do all of these things at speed, with a passion for delighting the customer, and using superb design and engineering. They will have to do this using an open philosophy and partnership model to create a distributed presence that intersects with the places where their customers live, work and play.

As Apple fans around the world await the expected announcement of the 8th generation iPhone later this month, it is timely to reflect on just how much these extraordinary personal devices and their ecosystems have changed the world already, and on how much more change they are likely to drive in the years ahead.

As a global bank with a strong history of innovation that stretches back over 200 years, Citi is determined to play a scale-enabling role in the digital re-invention of banking driven by this mobile revolution. The journey is well under way and we are excited and ready for what’s next