An interview with Rajesh Yohannan


Sainsbury: What are your top mobile/digital priorities for the next 12-18 months?


Yohannan: We have four key priorities. First, we continue to focus on developing simple and intuitive customer experiences on Citi’s remote channels by expanding our current offerings. Second, we look to lead in mobile and tablet banking as this is a huge opportunity. We have been making some significant strides. In October, we hit the one million active user mark for CitiMobile, our proprietary mobile banking app. Third is ensuring online and mobile security. This is non-negotiable. Lastly, we are looking to build global platforms and processes that truly leverage Citi’s global network to provide a consistent customer experience regardless of where you are.


Sainsbury: What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing mobile banking in the Asia Pacific region?


Yohannan: The greatest opportunity is the proliferation of mobile. Everyone that we want to bank with has a mobile and most use it extensively for communication, information and entertainment. This was very different when Internet banking was first launched. Then personal computers and internet connections were not that common.  


Mobile banking will also provide us the opportunity to acquire more clients in our affluent and emerging affluent target markets and allow us to deepen relationship with our existing clients as they are able to transact with speed and simplicity.  


The greatest challenge is the ideal combination of security and usability to ensure an incomparable client experience. While CitiMobile client base expands by about 50,000 to 60,000 new users monthly, there is still a perception that mobile banking is not as secure and convenient to use.


Sainsbury: With such disparate cultures and technology infrastructure, how does a global organisation like Citi maintain a standard level of service across all markets in Asia Pacific?


Yohannan: Actually, Citi is putting in place common platforms across regions from Latin America to Asia. This mammoth task is a key step in ensuring a common customer experience across all markets.


At the same time, process standardisation in everything we do ensures consistent value propositions for our clients around the world while allowing us to bring new innovations to the market faster.


And Citi has been fortunate in being able to recruit some incredible talent in our eBusiness – people who are passionate, clued in to the latest developments locally and aware of global trends and developments. 


Sainsbury: Banking the unbanked’ has been identified as a significant opportunity for financial services in emerging Asian markets. How is Citi pursuing these opportunities?


Yohannan: While Citi Retail Banking focuses on meeting the needs of the emerging affluent and affluent market segments, Citi as a whole is also working on developing solutions for the unbanked segment.


Citi has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide financial inclusion for the world’s un- and underbanked by encouraging “mobile money” technology in developing countries. 


This is a game-changing endeavor with the potential to improve lives, create jobs, catalyse new enterprises and expand financial inclusion, particularly in the emerging markets that are critical to the growth of the global economy.
Initially, this program will focus efforts on nine countries with an emphasis on Colombia, Haiti, Indonesia, Kenya and the Philippines.


Sainsbury: What role do you see the branch playing in Asia Pacific as the mobile banking channel develops further?


Yohannan: Citi’s branches will continue to be central to our sales and distribution strategy but the function, look and feel will evolve. You see that in our Smart Banking branches – they have a retail feel, are predominantly digital and are located where people work and play.


For advice and consultation, clients are best served in branches. And that is what we are already seeing as 95 per cent of banking transactions that our clients do with us happen online, on the phone and via mobile. With the growth of Internet and mobile, our branches will become increasingly digital – everything will be connected, branch staff will be connected and need not be tied to their desks to serve clients. The entire client experience will be predominantly digital with more straight through convenience.


Sainsbury: What potential do you see in NFC for financial services in Asia Pacific?


Yohannan: The widespread adoption of NFC, or more generically, making payments via a mobile device, is a bit like death. Everyone knows it is bound to happen but no one knows when.


While the potential is huge, there are three major challenges that face the industry today:


First, we are very early in the game at this stage going by the number of devices that are NFC-enabled to the number of terminals that can accept NFC payments. There is still a long away to do. Second, the industry is too fragmented. A more stable and universal ecosystem is required for customer adoption to really gain traction. Third, everyone is trying to figure out how to make money from NFC deployment. While it may be the latest, most edgy thing to do, it has to also deliver economic value.


Sainsbury: What technologies outside of financial services do you believe could play a role in mobile banking?


Yohannan: Advancements in technologies that improve the security of applications would be a catalyst for faster adoption of mobile banking. Improvements in authentication technologies including biometrics would be a key area of interest too. HTML5 and its implications for us as publishers to create universal and seamless experiences will also have a big impact on the growth of mobile banking.


Sainsbury: Which business leaders inspire you the most, and why?


Yohannan: Personally, I do not take what is written in business books and magazines too seriously.  They tend to have a largely one-sided, almost eulogistic take on leadership. I have been inspired more from watching my supervisors in action. In the time that I have been at Citi, I have had the good fortune to work with and observe some truly smart and visionary leaders.


They are true leaders, managing large geographical areas, huge functional areas and expense budgets. I have seen them lead with confidence, seen them struggle and also seen them make mistakes – that is a great learning experience. What inspires me most in a leader is clarity of thought and courage and you have to be in close quarters to really see that.


Sainsbury: If you weren’t working in financial services, what would you be doing?


Yohannan: I would probably be in a technology start-up or in a Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company. Marketing intrigues me and that is how I started my career. I truly believe that from a career perspective, the future belongs to someone who understands both marketing and technology.


Sainsbury: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?


Yohannan: As eBusiness professionals (I speak for my eBusiness colleagues too), we see ourselves as digital bankers. We understand how to acquire, service and cross-sell to customers through remote channels. We understand how to market online and move customers to digital channels. We understand online customer experience and usability. We understand web analytics and the power of real-time marketing. We can be thought of as modern-day branch managers where the branch is the Internet or the mobile app.


With the Internet and mobile expediting the transformation of the retail financial services industry, it would be hugely rewarding and satisfying to be remembered as someone who played a significant part in that transformation at Citi.