Citi Pushes to Be the ‘Amazon of Banking’

New app, customer-centric ATMs

Citi is straining to break ahead of the financial services pack with user-friendly digital tools aimed at making banking with Citi as easy as shopping with Amazon. The bank chain is rolling out upgraded customer-centric ATMs in the U.S. this month and on Feb. 3 launched a revamped mobile app that lets you check your balances with a tap.

Citi and rivals Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and American Express face difficulties related to lingering consumer distrust from the 2008 financial crisis and the growth of nimble online companies like Ally Bank that use ads to chide big banks for fees and service issues.

In response, Citi is embracing utility and digital ease-of-use into its brand identity. Citi aspires to be the Amazon of financial services, said Melissa Stevens, Citi's head of Internet and mobile banking. Using digital capabilities and the power of information, “we want to connect our services in a simple way and [use that] connectivity to build relationships with our customers, so they feel “Citi knows me and is in it with me,’ ” she said.

To that end, the bank’s  2,900 ATMs now remember your preferences, offer directions in English, Chinese, Greek, Polish, Spanish or Korean, and speed the process of checking balances, making deposits and withdrawing cash. The machines also let you quickly check all your balances without having to go to multiple screens.

Citi’s streamlined app also includes an opt-in feature that lets you check your banking and credit card account without logging in. (The app will be available to all U.S customers within the year.)

The financial services market is ripe for a leader that uses technology to get close to its customers, according to branding experts. “Amazon has shown that tech can be a way to make a brand simple and reassuring to people, especially when a company is big and complex—like banks,” said Oscar Yuan, vp at Millward Brown Optimor, a brand consultancy. “No major bank has won that position yet, but if Citi aligns its marketing with positive customer experiences, it’s going in the right direction,” he said. In addition to snazzy ATMs and banking apps, Yuan pointed to the Citi Bike program in New York, which provides branded bikes for sharing on city streets, as another marketing gesture that “brilliantly” casts the brand as useful and empathetic. Many bike docking stations are next to Citigroup branches or ATMs.

Citi puts user experience at the forefront of its brand marketing, “which is reshaping the notion of what marketing is,” said Dianne Wilkins, CEO at Critical Mass, Citi’s digital agency. “The brand wants a to have a single face, with a cumulative customer experience across all touch points,” she said.

Better ATMs and apps are just the beginning.