Citi: Open API's a game changer

Opening APIs to third-party fintech and developers in November was a game changer for Citi as it strived to provide a stronger customer experience.

In fact, having third-party software interact with bank data was the reason the US banking giant could complete its recent deal with Qantas in just 8 short months, says Linda Duncombe, one of Citi’s top marketing executives.

“We couldn’t have done that without open APIs,” she told RFi Group's Global Digital Banking Conference in Sydney on Thursday.

In May, the lender signed a credit card deal with Australia’s national carrier in response to the high consumer demand for more frequent flyer points.

Citi started collaborating in earnest with fintechs some time back after receiving complaints from an important cutomer group that the bank's digital servicing was lacking and needed to be fixed.

Partnering with fintechs

The audience heard that the tie-up with start-ups reflected Citi's growing concern at competing with tech giant’s like Amazon, Google, and Facebook which are hugely relevant to consumers.

“We embrace fintech,” said Duncombe, the New York-based Managing Director, Head of Growth & Chief Marketing Officer for Citi Fintech.

"But open API’s allow you to you to make a quick decision about partnering with them -  which saves a lot of time and money.”

According to Duncombe, Citi’s recent IOS app took only 8 months to develop.

“The Android version took only about 3 months and at a fraction of the cost so we are getting better, faster and smarter at how we engage with our customers.”

Voice of the customer

Citi Fintech’s innovation head told the audience she likes to think of herself as the voice of the customer.

Hence, customer co-creation - where the customer helps build the bank experience to suit their needs - is one of her favourite topics.

“With a bank the size of Citi, there was a huge opportunity to change the way we dealt with customer feedback when building digital features into our offering."

This is especially important, she went on to say, given the high expectations generated by the tech giants.

“By giving customers a seat at the table, we are seeing real opinion and reaction to our designs”

Duncombe acknowledged that some customers didn’t want to be involved while others though it was a scam but that level of customer involvement was critical at a time when Citi needed to move faster than it had ever moved before.

"As a result, there were a number of features we added to apps after talking to customers that were never on our radar."

It was through this heightened customer engagement that Citi learned five years ago that younger people were moving away from credit cards.

“Millennials are not keen on credit she pointed out especially in the US where many saw their parents got to hell and back after the crisis.

“We need to watch this debt conundrum very closely." 

The Citi executive finished her presentation by saying: “It’s part of our mandate to change the way we work. We were encouraged to break glass and be change champions."

"But to really drive change for your consumers, you have to really enjoy building an airplane when you're in the air."

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