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Citizens Bank: 4 steps to seriously compete in digital banking

  • Lamont Young is the bank's head of digital.
  • The bank believes getting the firm's culture right maintains competitiveness.
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Citizens Bank: 4 steps to seriously compete in digital banking

Without Bank of America’s deep pockets or Citi’s coverage breadth, Citizens Bank has grown to be the 13th largest retail bank through being scrappier. Digital plays an increasingly important role for the firm’s future and as it does, its impact is being felt on its culture, its recruiting practices, and the types of partnerships it considers.

“We think of digital strategy as an extension of our overall strategy,” said Lamont Young, Citizens Bank’s head of digital.

Citizens has focused on four core areas in helping guide the bank in an increasingly competitive digital market.

It all starts with culture

The firm frequently talks about its focus on customers and its relationship with them. Citizens sees the industry’s frenzy around fintech less as a disruptive force and more as an opportunity to show customers the way to better financial experiences. Culture sits at the heart of this change and first and foremost, it’s about servicing customers. It’s about creating an environment of people and processes that support customers across channels and touch points.

lamont young, head of digital, Citizens Bank
Lamont Young, head of digital at Citizens Bank

“We’re getting out of historical silos and channels and continue to think about the customer first,” said Young, who also heads up multi-channel marketing. “Customers want to interact with us any way they choose. They want to make sure they’re connected. I want to follow through an issue that began at a branch that carries over to phone with a single view of the customer, across channels.”

With the support of senior leadership of the bank, this thinking permeates the organization and extends beyond just the firm’s customers. It also impacts what type of technology the firm uses and how it works with partners.

Deciding where to compete

With $145 billion of total assets, Citizens isn’t Bank of America or Citi. The financial institution chooses to pick its spots where to compete and stays out of those where it doesn’t feel like it has an advantage.

Customer feedback plays a major factor in determining the firm’s product roadmap. The company’s strategic planning gives preferences to those things Citizens’ customers clamoring for and prioritizes them accordingly, with the intention to bring them more quickly to market. So, instead of typical 18-24 month cycle times, Citizens attempts to roll out new customer-driven products and services in six months.

Citizens aims to always be among the leaders but that doesn’t always mean it has to be first to market. “We don’t have to be the first adopters, but we can’t be laggards with core capabilities,” he said.

Making sure the right players are on the team

With roadmap in hand, Citizens then conducts a skills assessment to determine whether it has the requisite chops for a project. If it doesn’t, it then looks to see if the skills gap can be closed by reskilling or whether it makes more sense to form a partnership with a third party.

“We found that some of the recent hires are folks with ecommerce experience, but not necessarily bank experience,” explained Young. “Understanding digital sales is critically important. We’re not just competing against TD and PNC for talent. We’re also hiring people from Target and Amazon, with digital analytics expertise. Data scientists are in hot demand right now.”

As Citizens has attracted top talent from technology and ecommerce firms, the physical nature of the work environment is also changing. The digital team has hired social media and content marketing talent from media firms and agencies and in doing so, had to combat the stigma that all banking is suit-and-tie stuffy. These types of hires have an expectation of a more relaxed work atmosphere, and so Young’s digital group has tried to create an environment that is conducive to this type of work that includes more open space.

Rollout, measure, pivot

Young believes his organization should be nimble enough to make changes on the fly when something it’s been working on doesn’t pan out as planned. That’s done via an ongoing evaluation of the bank’s development and marketing activities.

An evaluation of the firm’s digital platforms over the past six months is a recent example of this type of analysis. Whereas initial thinking was that the firm should reinvest in both its mobile and online technology stacks, it looks more likely that Citizens will explore a single digital platform that supports both channels.

Young doesn’t believe he needs to reinvent the wheel when it comes to technology and sees opportunities to work with fintech partners. As an organization, he feels Citizens is open to different ways of doing business and different personalities. Senior leadership has bought in. Partners still need to be a good fit for the bank, though, especially if there’s data sharing going on. The rest will work itself out.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed is selling this message [of collaboration] to our senior leadership,” said Citizens’ Young. “There’s an openness and value to working with smaller companies to reduce cycle times and join us in pushing the envelope.”

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