When Citigroup opened 2020, the most ambitious projects at the $2.2 trillion in assets lender involved major partnerships with technology companies best known for their internet, social media and ecommerce platforms.
In China, nearly 70% of the payments that Citigroup handles for customers are done through AliPay, the payments business spawned by Alibaba. Citigroup’s digital payments technologies are also present on other popular social messaging platforms like LINE and WeChat. The mega-lender recently launched a credit card partnership with fintech Paytm in India and in Singapore it uses chatbots on Facebook Messenger to help answer customer service inquiries. In November 2019, the bank made a big splash in the United States by unveiling a digital checking account with Google Pay.
These partnerships are part of a new reality for the banking industry’s most important players like Citigroup: Innovative and seamless digital banking capabilities are paramount in a business where basic financial products have become commoditized and rock-bottom interest rates make it hard for lenders to differentiate. Consumers are instead voting with their smartphones, demanding the ability to conduct their financial activities safely and easily on mobile phones and their desktops
Never were these growing demands more important than during the coronavirus pandemic, which forced countries around the world to announce lockdowns to combat the spread of the virus. Unable to visit bank branches, consumers turned to mobile apps and online services to get transactions done. In the U.S., Citi saw an 84% increase in daily mobile check deposits in May and a tenfold surge in activity on Apple Pay as quarantined customers used digital and contact-less tools to handle their financial activities. The lender’s Mexican operations saw an 80% increase in mobile app logins in March. Downloads of its mobile app surged 116% from February to April, while digital bill payments rose 78%.
“Banking has changed irrevocably as a result of the pandemic. The pivot to digital has been supercharged,” says Jane Fraser, president of Citigroup and CEO of its gigantic consumer bank. “We believe we have the model of the future – a light branch footprint, seamless digital capabilities and a network of partners that expand our reach to hundreds of millions of customers.”
Citi’s increasingly digital approach is visibly evident in Forbes’ second ranking of the World’s Best Banks, based largely on customer satisfaction surveys. Citi rates highly in six of the 23 countries where customers were surveyed (Citi has retail operations in 19 countries).