An Interview with Kate Luft, Head of Retail Banking, Citi


“I challenge other leaders to help grow a culture of asking ‘why?’. It can be easy in any large company, not necessarily in financial services, to continue to do something because it’s always been that way.”

FST Media: Take us through some of Citi’s key digital priorities as we step into 2020. How is the bank evolving its digital capabilities in line with Australia’s changing financial services ecosystem?

Luft: At Citi, we have a strong focus on being a digital bank. We recently launched a new product called the Global Currency Account, which is digital-only and lets customers transact like a local in 10 different currencies. It’s innovative, digital, and customer-friendly, which reflects where we are going with our entire product suite.

In addition to prioritising innovation, we are also taking a step back to perfect the basics and ensure our existing functions drive a streamlined, straightforward customer experience. As a large bank, we have a number of local and global processes and systems. While this can bring many benefits, it does also mean that we need to be strict in reviewing what we currently have to ensure that the experience is simple and what comes next is built on strong foundations that are future-proofed.

FST Media: As a powerhouse in global banking with a relatively small footprint in the Australian market, how does Citi compete with the country’s entrenched incumbents to provide better customer value and experiences?

Luft: Citi competes in the market by focusing on where we can add value to customers. For example, our global reach can provide some tremendous advantages. In our Global Currency Account, we can take advantage of our 90+ country network to provide competitive FX exchange rates. For our wealth management business, we can provide the most connectivity to fixed income and international equities of global corporates.

FST Media: Citi has notably shrunk its retail branch network in Australia while at the same time diversifying its customer strategy and, as mentioned, taking on a more digital focus. Why were these steps considered necessary for Citi’s ongoing, and lasting, presence in Australia?

Luft: At Citi, we are ensuring we deliver to our customers the service they want, where they want it. For wealth management, this means that we need to maintain a physical presence, as when discussing something as significant as where to invest their money, our customers want that face-to-face experience. For more basic retail banking however, our customers don’t want to go into a branch; they want to interact with us digitally. 

With this background, we are closing our branches and, instead, opening up and investing in top of the line wealth management centres. By reducing our physical footprint, we also create the ability to invest more in our digital products and programs.

FST Media: With banks now readily embracing AI, machine learning and chatbots, what impact do you feel these technologies will have in transforming face-to-face customer interactions and engagement with Citi? Are you keen to see greater uptake of these technologies?

Luft: With technological innovation, for me, what we need to look at is whether we are simplifying our service for customers and, most importantly, allowing the customer to choose how they want to interact with their bank. This can mean many different things. For example, a chatbot can be an easy, always-on way for customers to interact with us, particularly if they’re in an environment where they can’t make a call.

We’re testing many innovations across the region, from AI in protecting our customers to chatbots, video RM capability, and advancements in fraud. The potential to use technology to improve CX is huge.

FST Media: Your career at Citi has crossed any number of products, businesses, and indeed countries. What are some of the career challenges you’ve faced in the past and can you offer any advice to other FS industry leaders in getting the best out of their team and digital assets?

Luft: I challenge other leaders to help grow a culture of asking ‘why?’. It can be easy in any large company, not necessarily in financial services, to continue to do something because it’s always been that way. This is a natural behaviour, as we can become attached to processes or become too comfortable and complacent.

Having travelled to so many different countries for work, I’ve been forced to continuously ask why we are doing something. In many cases, it is for the right reasons and, in others, it is because we never stopped to think of an idea differently. This has become ingrained in the way I work. I encourage others to focus on asking why as well in order to create an environment where it’s okay to break out of the comfort zone, to challenge and ultimately to innovate.


Kate Luft will be a featured panellist on the Digital CX stream at our flagship conference, the Future of Financial Services, Sydney 2019. Register now to secure your place!