An Interview with Shrikant Bhat


FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Bhat: Our aim is to be the world’s leading digital bank. We are seeing a strong pick up for our digital banking services in the region as technology and digitisation are transforming the way in which we serve our clients. New Citibank branches have also taken on a digital model. These ‘smart-banking’ branches include interactive touch panels, video-conferencing capabilities and full-service banking from devices such as iPhones and iPads. These were launched first in Japan in 2009 and since have been rolled out across the world, including over 100 in Asia. The bank has also been investing in new ATM technology and last year launched the next generation ATM in South Asia, called Citibank Express. The ATM offers all services available in a branch. Our tech priorities are clearly aimed at empowering our customer with the ability to access our services anytime, anywhere by leveraging on our digital channels.

To date, Citi has passed the 7 million mark for customers in Asia that are signed up for digital banking services for their banking needs; including online, mobile phones and other digital channels. These banking services include Citi’s award winning mobile and internet banking applications across the 14 markets in which the bank has consumer operations in Asia. At the end of April 2014 Citi had 7.4 million customers registered for our digital banking services.

FST Media: What is proving to be the biggest technology game-changer in wealth management in the financial services industry?

Bhat: We are seeing that consumer preferences are changing and there is a generational shift in behaviour which is driving consumers to new digital channels. Besides online banking, more and more people around the world are also using mobile phones with internet access. We are seeing mobile banking on the rise and people are accessing investment related information on the go. Technology is therefore enabling and empowering individuals to make investment decisions at their own convenience and with greater immediacy. Furthermore, technology allows us to access big data and use analytics to understand customer behaviour and preferences, as well as market trends. With this information, we are better able to meet our customers’ needs, stay relevant to changes as needs evolve. Hence, both from an end user and a service provider perspective, technology is changing the way the financial industry remains relevant to the customer.

FST Media: How can financial services organisations compete with disruptors such as Google, Apple and Facebook to stay afloat?

Bhat: I see the role of disrupters as complementary channels through which we understand our customers better. As banking service providers, we have to evolve with our customer needs and stay in touch with them via various channels.

FST Media: What role does technology play in transforming the consumer experience in Wealth Management?

Bhat: Technology is enabling consumers to gain immediate access to information and research materials pertaining to their investments. Furthermore, they can track the performance of their investments and at the same time make timely decisions where necessary. Technology also allows us to stay in touch with our customers wherever they are and keep them abreast of developments that affect their investments.

FST Media: How has CitiGold Online added value to the business, and how will continue to measure its success and build more products geared to this?

Bhat: CitiGold Online is an important channel for serving our customers, providing transaction services as well as access to a number of wealth management offerings. For example, our transaction services enable instant internal transfer globally via CitiGold Global Transfers.

On the wealth management side, we are amongst the very few banks providing a full suite of products online covering foreign exchange, brokerage, mutual funds and other services including a portfolio performance tracker online. These offerings have made our online channel very easy to use and attractive for our customers. Our continued investment in improving our platforms is another reason why we are seeing more and more customers turning to our digital banking services.

FST Media: How does Citibank leverage big data and analytics to deliver customers a unique and personalised experience?

Bhat: Big data and analytics allow us to understand customer behaviour and preferences, as well as market trends. With this information, we are better able to meet our customers’ needs, stay relevant to changes as needs evolve and where necessary, help customers rebalance their portfolio.

Big data also provides us with information on how we serve our customers and what works best as we reach out to different segments within our customer base. At Citi, we have been using analytics to serve our customers better since the 1990s. Hence using big data and analytics is not a new phenomenon for us.

FST Media: What are the challenges in managing large amounts of data and delivering key business intelligence objectives?

Bhat: As we have been accessing data to serve our customers for some two decades, we have continuously invested in improving our digital infrastructure and processes whereby we can forecast behaviour patterns, create predictive models and optimise solutions.

It is important to realise that analytics software only helps gather information in a structured manner based on parameters provided by individuals. The final input and recommendations must involve the human factor in making judgements. The aim of our efforts in leveraging data analytics is to help serve our customers better as their needs evolve.

FST Media: What is your most effective customer acquisition channel, and why?

Bhat: Acquisition channels vary depending on customer segments and their need. On the digital front, we are engaging our customers across various complimentary channels including e-chat via Citibank online, Citi phone, ATMs and at our branches. 

FST Media: What tools keep you abreast of the latest technology trends?

Bhat: As a global leader in financial services, we invest in developing technology based on emerging needs as well as to enhance our customer interactions across many markets where we have a presence. Our approach is to implement best practices across the globe and this enables us to remain relevant to changing needs of our customers.

At Citi, we have innovation labs that develop cutting edge technology. For example, Singapore hosts our only innovation lab in Asia and it is from here that we developed our next generation of ATMs called Citibank Express which has the potential to provide full service banking capability for our customers. This has since been rolled out in other markets where Citi has a presence.

FST Media: In regards to career development, what has been the best advice you ever received?

Bhat: The best advice I received was to “keep learning and continue acquiring new skills”. In the wealth management industry, the more we know the better we can guide our customers – that is really the differentiating factor. 

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Bhat: In the wealth management industry, one has to constantly evolve to remain relevant to customer needs. I want to make a contribution to transforming the wealth management customer experience – from the transactional to the truly holistic experience, and making it a remarkable one.