Interview with James Berti, Director of Operations and Technology, Citibank


SHARWOOD: How do you define success with respect to technology?

BERTI: Well it’s a combination of factors, but in essence success is defined by whether the promise was kept in tact. Let me expand on that a little. If scope, cost, and time is achieved as agreed with stakeholders with no compromise to quality, reliability or longevity while ensuring the best possible customer experience, then that’s success.

SHARWOOD: You have mentioned in the past the difficulty banks face in trying to replace their legacy systems, preferring instead to focus on the peripherals. Which systems are you focusing on in the next 12 – 18 months?

BERTI: Core banking products really haven’t changed much over the last 20 years and therefore the legacy systems haven’t required a major overhaul. What has changed is customer expectations on how these products are sold and serviced. Customers want convenience, simplicity and an integrated/total relationship view in handling their financials. We’ve been focusing and will continue to focus on the customer touch point applications and how we consistently deliver information to bring the greatest value to our customers. Lately, we’ve implemented technology which allows us to offer personalised sales offers no matter what channel customers use. These offers are dynamically updated across the channels based on the customer behavior. We have been focused on bringing this and other such capabilities to our front line staff as I believe we must fully service our customer needs within the first interaction they have with us.

SHARWOOD: What are the key technology enablers you see emerging in the banking sector during 2008 and beyond, and why?

BERTI: With the push for self servicing, I think the overwhelming technology enabler will be wireless technology. We are also investing heavily and accelerating our understanding in utilising SOA and are using Tibco to help us in this area.

SHARWOOD: In April 2007, the CEO of Citigroup announced plans to eliminate 17,000 IT jobs worldwide. Has that program impacted the IT team in Australia? If so, how?

BERTI: I don’t recall the announcement. The local business has been thriving and our investment in technology and our technology staff has been significant. I don’t see this changing.

SHARWOOD: Suncorp recently announced that Citibank will be assuming the operational and credit risk of Suncorp’s cards, as well as providing the technology platforms for the card. What challenges does this type of back-end deal pose for the technology division at Citibank?

BERTI: Actually the challenge is really on how we can ensure that we service our Citi branded cards, other non Citi branded cards, eg: Bank of Queensland, etc and Suncorp cards. We have taken the approach to replicate our core platform to ensure we eliminate contention between these portfolios. It also allows us to easily apply the Chinese walls that we normally do – and which our partners feel so strongly about. With this strategy in place and the degree of technology flexibility which our partners value, I feel comfortable in overcoming any challenge that lies ahead.

SHARWOOD: Looking at Web 2.0, how do you see it impacting Citibank’s internet and mobile banking services?

BERTI: I think it will change these channels quite significantly. We underwent a major upgrade to our website late in 2006 and this move has provided Web 2.0 capability. So I believe we have the right foundation and we are building more and more Web 2.0 capability this year and next. Part of the rollout timing is in line with customer acceptance as not everyone can adjust to what the new capability brings to the table. Our Web site is much more interactive than it ever was, it has become a feature and media rich, user friendly and collaborative natured tool.

SHARWOOD: Every IT leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. From the perspective of Director of Operations and Technology, what is yours?

BERTI: I’d like to be thought of as the leader that focused on the customer, provided the best operational processes and the best technology through a highly charged and talented team.