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Critical Evaluation of Banking on Ebusiness

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Write critical evaluation of the following article. Submissions will be evaluated based on the thoroughness with which the topic is addressed. Paper should be three to four pages in length.
Citigroup is dramatically expanding its Internet presence in an effort to approach its target of 1 billion customers

By Bob Violino | | | | itigroup, the financial-services giant formed by the merger last fall of Citicorp and Travelers Group, wants to be the leader in online banking and E-commerce in the financial-services industry. It wants a piece of the major portals on the Internet. And these are part of an even bigger goal: expanding its customer base from 100 million to 1 billion by 2012, Citi's 200th anniversary.

The billion-customer figure, first articulated by Citigroup in 1997, is more of a "stretch target" than a do-or-die goal, company officials say. But it reflects Citigroup's effort to broaden its influence and reach dramatically, an effort driven primarily by IT.

Citigroup is preparing for the customer push with an aggressive E-business strategy that involves all aspects of its organization. The division Citigroup created two years ago to spearhead its E-commerce effort is working overtime to deploy new products and services. It's exploring radical ways to make it easier for customers to interact with the company. And Citigroup's traditional IT organization is making the infrastructure changes needed to support the company's online effort.

Citigroup isn't abandoning its brick-and-mortar constituency. But the greatest potential for gaining new customers and holding onto current ones, executives of the New York company say, lies in electronic banking and E-commerce.

"Our first step is to build an electronic presence that's as broad and generic as possible," says Ed Horowitz, senior corporate officer of Citigroup and head of e-Citi, the unit charged with forging the company's online strategy. Horowitz, who reports directly to Citigroup co-chairmen John Reed and Sanford Weill, is a principal figure in Citigroup's expansion plans. Horowitz came to Citigroup in 1997 in a high-profile move from his previous position as head of the interactive media division for cable TV giant Viacom (see sidebar story, "Mass-Market Approach").

Formed in 1997, e-Citi has a staff of about 1,200, including managers, Web designers, and programmers, as well as marketing, distribution, advertising, sales, human resources, and financial personnel. So far, Citigroup has invested $160 million to $170 million in e-Citi. "We're creating a company from scratch and emulating everything Citi does," Horowitz says. The difference, he says, is e-Citi's emphasis on new approaches to IT, in particular the Web and thin clients.

E-Citi is creating Web content at a furious pace. When he came to e-Citi, Horowitz moved up the cycle of introducing online products, services, and upgrades to quarterly--"Web years," Horowitz calls it. For example, e-Citi is introducing versions of the Direct Access online retail-banking service with new features for savings and checking accounts, bill payment, stock trades, and credit-card transactions every quarter. Also, e-Citi will roll out banking, brokerage, and insurance products for the Web in the coming months. And the unit plans to offer a Web-based financial and investment advisory service, Finance.com, by August.

There's a reason for the hurried pace. Horowitz acknowledges that smaller, faster-moving Internet banking companies, such as Security First Network Bank and Scotiabank, are emerging to compete with established banks by offering more aggressive online services.

Citigroup is looking for its own competitive advantages on the Web, such as the ability to tailor the company's financial-services products to specific demographic groups. For example, Horowitz says e-Citi may create a "bouquet of services" geared toward young married couples between 24 and 35. And e-Citi is working on tailoring content-rich front ends for a younger generation of clients used to being entertained, interfaces supported by traditional banking services. "We can create a front end that has the hotness of MTV, but the account is the same," he says.

Citigroup is prepared to go a long way to grab customers. In addition to cross-selling its own banking, brokerage, and insurance services, Citigroup will eventually offer products from other financial-services companies over the Web in an effort to gain customers by attracting them to Citigroup's site, Horowitz says. Analysts say it's a risky trade-off. "The risk is, you make less in terms of operating profit, but you get more volume," says Bill Doyle, director of online financial services at Forrester Research. Still, it's a strategy Citigroup must follow to be successful on the Web, Doyle says.

|
The Internet provides Citigroup with a platform not only for reaching a wide audience of customers, but also for interacting with customers on an individual level. "Our ultimate aspiration is to get down to a unit of one," Horowitz says. "We owe it to every customer to create products uniquely tailored to that customer."

The aggressive customer thrust comes at a time of heightened internal activity for the financial-services company. Citibank and Travelers are in the midst of integrating their huge operations; as part of a $900 million restructuring charge last December, Citibank and Travelers are consolidating some of their call centers, back-office operations, and trading platforms. Citibank is revamping its IT infrastructure to support the growing emphasis on E-business. Also, the combined organization is dealing with final year 2000 conversions and testing.

"They have a huge task ahead of them," says Rajeev Agarwal, a senior research analyst at the Tower Group. "Trying to implement this online strategy across the board in every business unit is a humongous challenge, not just from an IT perspective but from an organizational and political perspective."

No Rivalry
The efforts to become a more Web-centric business, speed development, and significantly increase the customer base can't be done without strong support from central IT. Mary Alice Taylor, who as senior corporate officer and head of global operations and technology runs Citigroup's IT infrastructure, says there's no rivalry or political friction between e-Citi and Citigroup's IT department. "We both view this as a partnership to support the overall business," Taylor says. "We're also working to bring Travelers into the effort. We all recognize that customers will want access to Citigroup from multiple venues."

Certainly, e-Citi is a drop in the technology bucket compared with Citigroup's overall IT budget. Taylor won't comment, but Tower Group estimates Citigroup's IT spending, including Travelers' IT budget, at $3.3 billion to $3.5 billion. Taylor also won't comment on specific IT initiatives concerning the billion-customer target, instead emphasizing that Citigroup is building new capabilities that "give us maximum flexibility."

With outsourcing provider AT&T Solutions, Citigroup is converting all of its internal data networks worldwide to TCP/IP from a hodgepodge of older, non-Web protocols. Stan Welland, division executive for global technology infrastructure, says the conversion should be completed by the third quarter and will let the company expand bandwidth as its customer base grows.

Citigroup is also moving to standardize its desktop and server hardware and software, LANs, E-mail systems, and thin clients. Helping to coordinate the standards effort is Tom Trainor, former CIO at Eli Lilly and Co., whom Citigroup tapped late last month to head its global IT operations.

The company is also consolidating its data centers, from as many as 200 worldwide to the current 60, and eventually down to about six. Meanwhile, e-Citi is developing middleware that links Citigroup's mainframe-based legacy environment--such as a database of 45 million credit-card holders--and its Web architecture. Middleware tools, including a mix of internally developed and commercial products from numerous vendors, will provide functions such as message handling and communications protocols between older and newer systems, Horowitz says.

"The object isn't to move off mainframes," says Leon Williams, chief technology officer at e-Citi and a former CIO at a Sun Microsystems unit. "We have a set of core banking products that will be on mainframes for a long time because of the huge amounts of data processed. But we're connecting those systems to Web-based front ends."

Web Commitment
Still, the reduction in mainframes reflects Citigroup's increased emphasis on Web servers. Indeed, Citigroup's commitment to the Web and E-commerce is among the most aggressive in the financial-services industry, says Christopher Musto, senior analyst for Internet banking at Gomez Advisors. "Clearly, Citigroup recognizes what the Internet brings to the business model," Musto says. "Citigroup hasn't necessarily done more in any one segment than its peers, but is doing things all over the place in the United States and internationally."
This month, Citigroup will launch a suite of Internet corporate banking services that it has been testing with 12 business customers, Williams says. Last week, Citigroup brought out a business-to-business E-commerce system called Citibank Commerce. Initially available in the Asia-Pacific region, Citibank Commerce lets users order products, monitor order status, and complete settlement and reconciliation processes. The software, which is priced in the tens of thousands of dollars, uses smart cards, passwords, and digital certificates for security, and is tied into the Citigroup network.

A series of moves during the past year have positioned Citigroup to be a major player on the Web. Executives expect an August 1998 deal with Netscape--in which Citigroup is the anchor tenant on the Netcenter Personal Finance Channel and displays its brand on Netcenter's home page--to build a Web presence for the company from exposure on a major Internet portal. The Personal Finance Channel provides financial advice, news, research reports, and interactive tools for investing and other transactions. Citigroup plans to begin offering online banking, insurance, and mortgage services on the site in the next few months.

The Netscape deal gives Citigroup the opportunity to attract customers from about 150 countries at a much lower cost than if it had to open retail branches in all those areas, says Josh Grotstein, e-Citi division executive for global Internet and E-commerce programs. "The portal is the first global medium," Grotstein says. "We can buy space and time on these to gain more reach into customer segments than we've had before." Citigroup is looking to acquire space on different types of portals, Grotstein says--more demographically specific, niche-oriented portals, for example, and some outside the United States.

Analysts say the portal strategy is a savvy one for Citigroup. "The [Netscape] deal is emblematic of Citi's recognition that they've got to be where potential customers go," says Forrester Research's Doyle.

In an earlier deal with Netscape, Citigroup licensed the vendor's CommerceXpert line of applications and server software. Among other projects, e-Citi is using the Netscape technology to build an electronic bill presentment and payment system. To support that effort, Citi took an equity interest last September in TransPoint, a back-end fulfillment service in development by Microsoft and First Data Corp. Citi will begin offering services through TransPoint in the next few months.

Horowitz says electronic bill presentment is a critical component of E-commerce, one that will help attract customers to its other online services. "We view it as a way to provide `stickiness' to the Web site," he says. "People who come to Citi's site will see `you have mail' and `you have bills,' and that will suggest they come back to us every day."

E-Citi is also developing an electronic "wallet," a product that makes it convenient for users to buy goods and services on the Web by storing information that E-merchants commonly request during the transaction process. Users enter data, including name, billing and shipping addresses, and credit- or debit-card information, into the wallet.

"Most merchants ask for the same information, and people get tired of typing it in each time they want to buy something," says Gail Hoffman, VP for E-commerce new business development. "This is a secure and private container of information." Citigroup isn't the only company developing an electronic wallet--Microsoft unveiled plans for one earlier this year. Citigroup sees it as another way to attract customers. Hoffman says people who opt to use the electronic wallet will be introduced to the company's other services. Citigroup expects to introduce the wallet in select markets by the summer and nationwide by September.

Access: Customer's Choice
Another e-Citi strategy to attract customers is to make all electronic services available through an ever-widening variety of distribution channels. "We want to let people use any kind of device, anything with a screen that's capable of connecting to a network from anywhere, to transact with Citigroup," says Alan Young, a VP of e-Citi who's responsible for access devices and distribution technologies. "Customers should be able to choose how they want to talk to us."

Citigroup executives believe the cellular phone has enormous potential as a distribution device. The company recently began a trial service in Singapore in partnership with carrier Mobile One that lets users perform retail-banking functions such as opening accounts and transferring money by using cell phones equipped with screens.

The plan is to roll out cellular banking on a limited basis by year's end. But first, Citigroup must complete its development of a Windows NT-based distribution architecture, initially in 22 countries, that will route customers to the appropriate systems, Young says. Citigroup is also creating an interface that will make it easy for customers to gain access to the bank's network, and is looking for telecom partners to provide communications expertise and network facilities.

In addition, the company is developing a common networking platform among its banking, credit-card, insurance, and brokerage services so that customers can easily switch from one type of service to another while making a cellular transaction. "The long-term goal is to let people use their cell phones as virtual credit cards, to do banking, sell stocks, and buy insurance," Young says. "We'll tailor individual services to customer needs. As long as they can authenticate themselves, we'll deliver information to them on demand."

Citigroup is also experimenting with financial services delivered via digital cable TV using set-top boxes. It has begun discussions with cable operators to provide the service to subscribers. Last December, Citigroup signed a deal with TVN Entertainment Corp., a provider of pay-per-view programming, to develop hardware and software for a suite of banking, brokerage, and insurance products for the effort.

Phase one of its project with TVN, in which the companies programmed retail-banking functions onto a digital set-top box, was recently completed and is being tested by Citigroup internally. In the second phase, the companies will refine and expand the technology to include other services, and Young says Citigroup expects to begin marketing it to cable operators worldwide within 12 months. The company also signed a deal with startup WorldGate Communications Inc., a provider of Internet TV over cable service. Citigroup will be the exclusive financial-services provider for WorldGate's Internet/TV platform.

At least one analyst is not impressed with the cell phone/TV initiatives. "They're nice extras but not primary vehicles," says Forrester Research's Doyle. "I don't see people doing banking or paying bills in an emergency where they need to use a cell phone. And TV is a public thing, whereas the PC is more personal." Still, e-Citi takes the efforts seriously. "We've set up a platform through which we can compete more effectively in the 21st century," Grotstein says.

Citigroup is also taking seriously the need to support the potential explosive growth in customers. Williams says customer-service centers will be significantly enhanced, including the addition of automated call-routing technology, systems that give operators instant on-screen access to customer information, and multimedia systems that combine fax, E-mail, and video.

Despite the growing importance of e-Citi to Citigroup's business, Horowitz makes a point of saying the company isn't abandoning brick-and-mortar banking. In fact, many of its new customers will likely rely totally on more traditional banking. "We're not shutting down branches," he says. Horowitz is pushing for development of a strong distribution channel beyond Citigroup's traditional five-state service area in the United States. "We view the physical distribution organization as vital and as fundamentally necessary for us to be a full-service provider to corporate or consumer customers," he says.

But e-Citi represents a significant competitive edge for Citigroup if the company gives e-Citi free reign to develop new E-commerce opportunities, says analyst Musto of Gomez Advisors. That's because others have kept Web efforts closer to traditional banking operations. "If they've given [e-Citi] resources like branding and money, they have a shot at building an Internet business without disrupting the profitable business they already have today," Musto says.

And e-Citi represents Citigroup's best chance at the dramatic growth symbolized by the billion-customer figure. "All these initiatives are extensions of what we do today physically," Horowitz says. "But with them we can extend into new communities and reach new consumers around the world without having to build a lot of new banks."

How many banks would it take to support a billion customers? By exploiting the Web, Citigroup hopes it won't have to solve that problem.…...

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