Citibank and Apple Continue to Change the World of Customer Engagement

Citibank Customer EngagementA brand does not simply stay relevant for over 203 years if it does not innovate. This is certainly true for Citibank, which has never stopped innovating. For more than 200 years, Citibank has continually transformed customer engagement by finding new ways to bring businesses and consumers together. 

During a general session at the IBM Amplify 2015 conference in San Diego last week, Andres Wolberg-Stok, Global Head of Emerging Platforms and Services of Citi Consumer Banking, demonstrated how the brand is still transforming customer engagement by first laying out its impressive history.

For more than two centuries, Citi has been an engine of progress by enabling projects that have changed the world. Wolberg-Stok noted that Citi helped make possible the first phone exchange networks, the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Panama Canal. Its storied history would also see the brand play a major role in launching commercial airlines and establishing the first transatlantic cable.

Later, it would pioneer the advent of ATMs, which was just another in a long lineage of projects that helped to make the world smaller and more connected by bringing businesses and consumers together.

“It is all about getting ever closer to your customers,” Wolberg-Stok said. “It is about helping to put them in control of their money. And customers expect evermore in that sense. We have been on a journey for decades to get closer to our customers and to bring our accounts closer to them. So you no longer need to go into a branch, you can just stop into an ATM across the street. Then online banking brought accounts into homes and offices.”

In 2007, Citi also put online banking in pockets with mobile, and then offered “no password access” to accounts just last year. But Citi has no plans to slow down yet, and something very new still looms on the horizon.

“The next step was a really big one, and it was just six weeks ago when we became the world’s first bank with an Apple Watch app,” Wolberg-Stok said. “And this goes from the branch, to the ATM, to online banking, to password free access, to having accounts on your wrist. You can see balances, the last few transactions, how much of your credit limit you have been using. It’s really cool. It’s been a big win.”

To say big win might actually be an understatement. Citi’s Apple Watch app has received an immense amount of press from some hefty sources including Yahoo, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg TV, TechCrunch, and more. So far, the functionality of Citi’s app has been cited as an example for every other financial app to follow.

And perhaps the most impressive feat of all was that the entire project, from white board to in-store, was completed in 120 days.

“You may be wondering how we did it?” Wolberg-Stok asked.

“Basically . . . we cheated,” he answered.  “We knew we needed a driven partner and a company that is a lot younger.”

At only 104 years old, that “younger” partner was IBM.

“We brought our teams together and we gave them a mission,” Wolberg-Stok continued. “From the first whiteboard we tasked them to work differently, to idea differently, to create differently, to think and to execute and to deliver differently.”

Before working for Citi, Wolberg-Stok worked for several start-up companies and these experiences taught him the importance and value of aggressively tackling a problem from scratch, which is exactly what the Apple Watch project required.

Since the final product was not yet completed, not even on Apple’s end, Citi was forced to figure out how to maximize customer engagement on a device that it was not even able to see or touch. Furthermore, there was also no pre-existing convention of what users would even want out of it. No one had ever had one before.

“The one thing we know, having already gone through the transition from online to mobile, was that you cannot take online and try to pack it into mobile,” Wolberg-Stok said. “So we knew we wouldn’t be able to take mobile and pack it into the watch. We would have to set aside everything, and start over to ideate the experience from scratch.”

But through the use of 3D modeling and the close and careful help of teams of designers and engineers from both Apple and IBM, it all came together.

So far the project has been a huge success and it showcases Citi’s ability and willingness to continue to innovate.

To everyone else, it also stands as a fantastic example of what’s possible.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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