How Citi wants to become a “life partner” for customers

Yolande Piazza’s vision for Citigroup and the wider financial services industry is to become a “life partner” for consumers.

“Gone are the days when banks had to determine when people have access to their money,” said the managing director of Citi FinTech, a unit of Citigroup that develops mobile-first services. “How we begin to figure out how to be that real financial partner will be critical to the industry.”

The first step for Piazza, who was promoted to her position in March after serving as the group’s interim CEO since August 2016, was to launch a redesigned mobile app that combines banking, asset management, money movement and authentication.

Customers using the new mobile application can open brokerage accounts, execute trades, chat with their banker and transfer money between their accounts at Citibank and linked checking and brokerage accounts – all using just one account number.

However, being a partner in financial life means more than just good mobile apps, said Piazza, one of our Women to Watch for the first time this year.

“It’s present on social media sites. It’s about being able to talk to the customer in a way that is more personal and helps them make financial decisions, ”she said. “We have the means to do this now through technology. I see the future in using this technical force to serve customers in a completely different way.”

Nobody spends a lot of time on banks’ websites and mobile apps. Hence, Citi realized that presence in consumers’ lives means being available on all of the websites, apps, and devices that they regularly use. In addition to social media, this also includes preferred retailer sites and all kinds of apps, be it for financial management, peer-to-peer payments or even for healthcare.

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One way Piazza is pursuing its “life partner” vision is to accelerate Citi’s open banking strategy, which makes it easier for other companies to work with the bank’s apps and integrate services that complement their own.

Citi was one of the first US banks to open application programming interfaces – software gateways that applications can work with – to third parties. In November 2016, Piazza expanded these efforts and launched a global API developer hub.

“We don’t assume that we have the best solutions in-house,” she said of the decision to work with API developers.

“So now we’re making these APIs available in different countries, doing hackathons and a lot of these fintech companies are coming in and demonstrating demo solutions that are connected to our APIs so they can see how they work in a real-world scenario.”

As of August this year, 2,400 developers had activated accounts on the hub and 250 organizations had used the APIs to build more than 300 applications. For example, 1-800-FLOWERS used the retailer’s customers to pay for bouquets with Citi card points.

“When we started working with companies to allow them to pay with points, it was a nine-month development effort and very costly,” said Piazza. “Now we can do it in a few days.”

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There are also know-your-customer and anti-money laundering compliance companies that use Citi’s APIs. “I think the whole concept of white-labeling banking services has a lot of runway,” said Piazza.

Another group playing with Citi’s APIs are healthcare companies and care providers. A third party service provider may use Citi’s payment mechanisms to provide services to large corporations, thereby providing a seamless process for consumers.

“Even if people today have a payment card for policies, in some cases they have to deal with sending out receipts,” said Piazza. “So a healthcare company is looking at how we can help customers provide a financial payment solution.”

Using Citi’s Money Movement API, a healthcare provider could enable a patient’s insurer to review and electronically pay hospital bills without the need for a consumer, for example, to submit them. “Using APIs makes it a lot easier and simpler,” said Piazza.

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