Back By Popular Demand, Citi's New Banking App

The focus at OMMA Mobile, and at OMMA in general this week, has been advertising, and what it encompasses when “native” is the adjective preceding it. That was especially true at OMMA Mobile on Wednesday.   

But one presenter talked about mobile from the functional application perspective. There is perhaps no sector where that question is a bigger issue than in personal banking. Melissa Stevens, director, global Internet and mobile banking program at Citi Connections, pointed out that once upon a time people picked their banks for proximity and person-to-person connection: can I get there in 10 minutes and does the person across the counter know who I am? “Now, people are choosing their banks for the online banking experience they provide,” she said. 

Banking, she added, is becoming app-centric and most 18- to-34-year-olds favor the quality of mobile banking over access. Citi -- which is in 36 markets globally, with banking apps in 31 of those markets -- is seeing a huge growth curve in their use, per Stevens. "Fifty-nine percent of our customers are using mobile today versus 22% in 2012. I wouldn't be surprised to see that go over 70% next year," she said. "And the bar isn't just ease of access, it's how do we holistically address how customers are interfacing with the bank and what their needs are." 

She said when the company launched its first downloadable app in 2007, consumer expectations were that this was a way to access account information. Now, she said, people are opening accounts on their devices. "At the core, people want to get something done on the go." 

In February this year, the company relaunched the mobile app and a significant addition to a new platform was push notification about one's account requirements, activity, etc. It also introduced a new level of ease of access to information, including users' ability, through a feature called Citi Mobile Snapshot, to see balances and account activity without having to log in. 

"It has to start with the needs and expectations of customers. It's about channel of choice. Optimize form factors and the interaction points for the life you lead," she said. 

To test the app, the company did something unusual for the banking sector: it launched it in beta in California and then did market research, probing users about what worked and what didn't. "Today," says Stevens, "we are launching nationally to every customer in the country. We have refined the communication and enrollment flow and now can put it out to everyone." 

The company, she said, is also addressing a typical bugbear of service providers, retail banking or otherwise: data convergence. "The consumer expectation is that because we have their information, everything is connected across the channels." This means, in practical terms, a customer shouldn't be speaking with a service rep one minute, live or on the phone, then, after going to another channel to address the same action or problem, finding him or herself having to digitally introduce him or herself all over again about the same subject. "Connectivity across channels -- thinking about what customer is actually doing is our focus," she said. 

Citi is also building out technology flexibility to enable nimbleness, because while app adoption rates after launch can be glorious, they can drop as quickly as a bowling ball in a trash chute if there are bugs. "Five years ago, we wouldn't be talking as much about mobile. It's really a different place, and we have to adapt because while people adopt apps quickly, they drop them quickly, too."

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