The Customer Effect

Citi’s mobile app is lagging behind its peers

  • Most of Citi's mobile banking initiatives and upgrades aren’t evident in customers' mobile banking experience yet
  • It is increasingly hard as a financial services brand to be everything to everyone; unlike its U.S. peers doing just that, Citi is focusing on certain segments
Citi’s mobile app is lagging behind its peers

Citi’s mobile app is lagging behind that of its large bank peers, for now.

The fourth-largest bank by assets grew its total active mobile users 21 percent year over year to nine million, the bank reported last week in its fourth-quarter earnings.

By contrast, Chase reported 30.1 million users, Bank of America 24.2 million and Wells Fargo 21.2 million.

Citi’s growth rate for 2017 was stronger though, at 21 percent year over year, than its peers.’ Chase reported 13 percent growth, Bank of America 12 percent and Wells Fargo 8 percent.

Citi offers solid mobile banking services and updates them constantly, it’s investing heavily in fintech — it has one of the most active corporate venture capital firms in the U.S. and tops its large bank peers in number of uniques fintech investments — and acting more globally than the other three. The problem is most of its efforts aren’t evident in customers’ mobile banking experience yet; there’s no actionable search option, very little in the way of help content and when it comes to two-way messaging with the bank, it again falls short, giving customers two options to reach the bank: call or write a letter (there’s a mailing address in the app). However, there’s more to its digital efforts than meets the eye.

“Citi is trying harder than others of its size to not only be doing small steps in 10,000 different places,” said Peter Wannemacher, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “They do not want to be putting on new-looking technology or have a new user interface just bolted on top of legacy systems. Everyone will do that to some extent but they want to minimize that.”

However, the low user numbers are surprising. Mobile banking in general is, still, not widely adopted by consumers. According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 44 percent of financial institutions tracking customer adoption now count more than 20 percent of their customers as active mobile banking users.

But still, Citi’s low user number remains surprising.

A benchmark review of digital banking services Forrester conducted three years ago found that no one was leading in mobile banking, Wannemacher recalled. All of the top five U.S. banks had, and continue to have, adequate mobile banking services but none that go above and beyond customer expectations. Since then, B of A has been the fastest mover when it comes to improvement and innovation in mobile, he added. It’s added branch scheduling tools, promotional offers, cardless ATM access and a good search function.

“Customers don’t say they want this in particular, but it’s part of the broader experience: other banks do a pretty good job of embedding marketing and sales and helping customers discover new products and services that are relevant to them,” Wannemacher said.

“These double digit growth rates are being fueled by greater speed to market with a slew of innovative features, many of which were market firsts” such as in-app card scanning to activate new cards, customized spending summaries and the ability to add an authorized card use, the bank said in an emailed statement. “In 2017, we launched over 800 digital features, a 300 percent increase versus the prior year. We are pleased with the growth we are seeing as we continue to digitize our model.”

Citi does advertise one thing in-app, at least in the iPhone app: its Citigold Wealth Management offering. In October 2015 the bank launched Citi FinTech, a unit in its global consumer bank dedicated to the development of its mobile banking services. A year later FinTech launched its first product: a mobile-first experience that would initially be tested on Citigold credit card members, who have qualifying balances of at least $200,000. That experience offers access to retail banking and investment accounts and includes a click-to-call button so they can immediately reach their relationship managers, financial advisers or a 24-hour service center.

Citigold is its fastest-growing segment, Stephen Bird, CEO of the global consumer banks, said at Citi’s Investor Day last spring. Citigold clients generate 25 times more revenue than clients in the mass market segment, and those relationships tend to be broader and deeper relationships. By the third quarter of 2017 the bank had grown its Citigold clients 28 percent and assets under management by 10 percent, chief financial officer John Gerspach said on the earnings call at the time.

The mass affluent, who tend to be more international, are obviously a focus for Citi, said Teresa Epperson, a partner in the financial institutions practice at A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm.

“Today tech savviness and use of mobile and digital is no longer directly correlated to age and income, it’s everyone,” she said. “If anything, higher net worth has an even higher bar for being able to access products, services and capabilities anytime anywhere.”

And Citi acts globally in a way a lot of other banks of its size don’t, Wannemacher said. Its fintech strategy — how it partners with and acquires smaller startups to improve services for customers — is as strong or stronger than anyone else’s and it’s expanding those efforts to emerging markets like Mexico and South America, unlike its peers.

“I’m not convinced that Citi knows what it wants its app to be,” he said. “It may be that they know and they’re thinking well ahead. But I worry about the fact that it is increasingly hard to be a financial services brand that tries to be everything to everyone and I wonder if that’s causing some of the lag behind some of the other companies.”

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