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‘We want to get to a segment of one’: Inside Citi’s 5 year plan for digital

  • Citi's digital channels have spiked in usage since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • The consumer bank's chief digital officer Mike Naggar shares where he's headed with technology.

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‘We want to get to a segment of one’: Inside Citi’s 5 year plan for digital

Digital usage was increasing steadily at Citi when COVID-19 hit the U.S. The bank had put a lot of focus on digital channels and products the few years leading up to 2020. And in March, when the first effects of the pandemic began to be felt in the market, Citi saw a spike in logins and new customers coming through digital channels.

"We saw, and continue to see, a 30% increase over pre-COVID logins and engagements," said Mike Naggar, chief digital officer of Citi's US consumer bank. "People in a pandemic tend to go toward safe ground. Nearly 60% of our new customer acquisitions have come over digital."

Mobile usage is up significantly, too. Before stay at home orders were implemented, the share of deposits coming over mobile was around 20% for the bank. Now, mobile check deposit is its largest deposit channel, with 37% of all deposits coming over mobile. That's about a 60% jump over last year. The last few months have been the biggest shift ever.

Citi launched the ability to send wires over mobile in 2019. With many branches closed to customers, that feature is in high demand. Citi has experienced a 300% jump in usage of mobile wires since launching it. Roughly 60% of the people using mobile wires haven't ever sent a wire from their Citi account.


Citi also saw a big increase in digital payments. In August, the bank's Zelle payment volume was up 42% from previous months. From April through August of 2019, Citi's Zelle payments were up 95% year over year. Contactless is also having a surge -- Citi has experienced about a 15% increase in transactions in Apple Pay over the same period prior to COVID.

When branches eventually fully open again, it's likely that digital volumes will remain elevated. "If the pandemic was 2-3 months, I think consumer behavior might have gone back," said Naggar. "Given how long the pandemic has lasted and how ingrained it's become in every day life, we won’t see a shift back to the old days. This will be the new normal."

Citi's proprietary internal research supports this idea of a higher digital baseline. When asked, both customers and non customers said they are more likely to use digital channels.

To leverage this shift in consumer behavior, Citi has a two pronged strategy. First, the consumer bank wants to continue to remove friction for activities Naggar describes as having "staying power". Things like Zelle and mobile check deposit can be made easier so consumers continue to migrate their activities to digital.

Next, Citi wants to ensure that the human component is woven smartly into its digital offerings. "People like a human touch," Naggar said. "We need to evolve our capabilities to retain the human touch. As our new CEO Jane Fraser likes to say, 'We need to be a bank with a soul.'"

Chatbots are one area Citi is focused on to improve the consumer experience by weaving in the human component with digital. But changes in user behavior take time. When COVID-19 hit, wait times over the phone were hours long. Chatbots, conversational AI, and NLP have all improved over the last 24 months, Naggar said. The need for information, answers, and to transact digitally helps ingrain this new technology into customers' behavior.

During the pandemic, Citi pushed out its chatbot to Android and web users. Before COVID-19, the bank handled 185,000 Citi bot conversations every month. Now, it's seeing 325,000 per month. Citi plans to double chatbot volume in 2021.

Unlike on the web, users get real time notifications using chatbot on their mobile devices. When a chatbot can't answer a customer's request, she's referred to an agent. On the web, you need to wait until that agent is free. Over mobile, Citi has shifted to asynchronous behavior — customers get a push notification to pull them back into conversation when the agent is ready.

This handoff between digital and human agent is something Naggar thinks a lot about. "We want to connect a customer's chatbot experience with the whole conversation overall with Citi," he said. "You can’t think about chatbots just as technology -- you have to think through the whole handoff."

When he has a question, a customer typically starts answering it by using the search function on Citi properties. From there, he goes to chat and then to an agent. Connecting all the communication channels so a customer can move easily between them is a priority for Citi over the next 6-18 months, said Naggar.

Citi recently conducted a 3 to 5 year strategic plan, refreshing its focus based on the increased adoption of digital channels during the pandemic.

The plan focuses on five major areas:

  • frictionless: Even digital has some analogue touch points. The bank wants to continuously remove barriers, making the experience super smooth and quick.
  • the whole financial picture: Citi is building capabilities to help its customers see their entire financial health, both on Citi properties and on partner channels. It's enhancing its passwordless and wealth management capabilities.
  • personalization: The bank wants to get to a segment of one. "Getting people in and out of digital as fast as possible and get them to get back means we need to ensure we’re giving consumers what they want," said Naggar.
  • close the digital gap: Citi wants to provide its customers with all the things digitally that they previously needed to go into a branch or call a call center for.
  • integrating channel: Naggar cautions against thinking that digital is just web and mobile. It's about connectivity. "In branch and digital, we can continue the conversation and maintain the context, bringing all the channels together," he said.

What’s going to separate companies that come out of this well is how they leverage the shift in consumer behavior. Winners will provide people with the capabilities and answers when they need them, said Naggar.

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