Citi: ‘Digital is going to lead our physical expansion’

Why the New York-based banking giant is bolstering its digital capabilities

Generally speaking, traditional banking hasn’t focused on the consumer experience enough for its customers and has made some services more complex instead, said Anand Selva, CEO of Citigroup’s US Consumer Banking division, at a recent event. 

“Simplicity is the name of the game. Creating better experiences and really simple experiences is what needs to be done,” Selva said, during a panel at CB Insights’ Future of Fintech event on Monday. “I tell my team all the time, we need to innovate to just get (the) basics right. We need to innovate to be simpler. We don’t need to innovate to get shiny objects.”

In an interview with CNBC technology reporter Deirdre Bosa, Selva discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital trends within banking as well as Citi’s strategy going forward, among other topics.

There are players in the fintech world that have made aspects of banking such as onboarding, opening accounts and making payments more simple and straightforward, Selva said. It’s that kind of simplicity that Citi aspires for and is “exactly what we are working on,” he added.

One area of significant growth that New York-based Citi has seen is its mobile check deposit feature since “people really don’t go to the branches to deposit checks.”

“So that behavior change is happening,” Selva said. “As an industry, and us included, we [have] to be really bold in how we sort of shape the new world here in terms of banking because of customers adapting to it.”

Citi has a physical light branch strategy with just under 700 branches.

“We are not averse to extending our physical network, but digital is going to lead our physical expansion,” he said. ‘We’d like to see a concentration of customers in our digital channels. And depending on that, we could be very open to extend physically, but not in significant quantities.”

However, Selva pointed out that consumers are starting to come into bank branches for advisory conversations and therefore bank branches are also evolving to become more “advisory type centers.”

Not only have there been drastic environmental changes like the pandemic causing Citi to adjust accordingly, but the bank also announced in September that its president Jane Fraser would replace Michael Corbat as chief executive in February when he retires after eight years.

“It created so much energy and so much buzz in the firm, that we have an extremely competent leader that happens to be the first female leader to lead Citi(group),” Selva said in regards to Fraser being tapped as the new CEO. “And it just speaks to the values of the firm here. I mean, we’re very focused on diversity and inclusion and equal opportunities for everybody.”

During the event, Selva also addressed the topic of Citi and Google’s partnership around digital banking services.

Citi and Google have also established a partnership where Google provides the consumer-facing front-end to digital banking services while the accounts will be held by Citi, along with other FDIC-backed banks Google has partnered with, according to TechCrunch. Bosa asked Selva if he was at all worried about big tech companies like Google gaining Citi’s expertise and then turning around to compete with Citi.  

“We believe that the current partnership we have with Google probably strikes the right balance, it brings the best for the customer from (an) experience perspective, the trust and the banking ‘know-how’ from us,” Selva said in response to the question. “So I think that would be (a) good partnership unless fintechs really want to be regulated like us.” 

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