Drawing the Best Ideas Out of 263,000 People

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Susan Andrews is using crowdsourcing and social enterprise tools to help "ideate" innovation at the New York bank.

Susan Andrews
Citi Ventures
Head of innovation
Latest breakthrough: A company-wide idea challenge that generated 2,307 new ideas for the bank.

Given Citi's long-held admiration of Apple, which led it to hire the computer company's store designers for its high-tech branches, it's not surprising the bank hired eight-year Apple veteran Susan Andrews to lead innovation at Citi Ventures, an arm that conceives, launches and scales new ventures inside and outside the bank.

"I don't come from the financial services sector; that's on purpose," says Andrews, whose formal title at the $1.9 trillion-asset New York bank is managing director and head of innovation. "The Citi Ventures team is comprised of people who are very diverse in their backgrounds. Citi did that to bring in interesting new perspectives. What we feel at Citi is that innovation is everybody's business, so our remit is to create a system of capabilities that allows our teams to innovate." Her team is building a common set of metrics and tools such as portfolio management meant to bring innovation projects to life.

Citi was once known at a tech leader in the industry. In the days of the original "The Citi Never Sleeps" campaign of 1978, the bank was the first to come out with ATMs and online banking. In the decades that followed, other priorities, including growing by acquisition and surviving the financial crisis, took precedence.

"Getting that back is definitely the strategy," Andrews says. "Deborah Hopkins [Andrews' boss at Citi Ventures] was here throughout all of that. But until her recent move to Palo Alto, there was a different focus for the firm." Hopkins recently moved out to Palo Alto and formed a team of 25 people who foster innovation in the bank.

"Coming from a company as innovative as Apple that creates insanely great customer experiences, where employees are empowered, engaged and proud to be part of the company, the thought is, what if we could create that here at Citi? What would that look like?" The ultimate goal is to break down the siloes that form at all large banks and scale innovation across the company using enterprise social software.

To this end, in October, Andrews launched a global Ideas Challenge for employees. "To our knowledge, it's one of the largest campaigns that's ever been implemented, not only at Citi but at any company - it went out to all of our 263,000 employees," Andrews says. "It was the first time Citi had ever done anything like this, so there were a lot of cultural norms that had to be addressed. We had to get management involved, they had to give their teams permission to participate. We needed to educate people on how to use this new tool."

From October through March, 46,500 employees from 97 countries participated in the challenge and 2,307 ideas were submitted. "We discovered that it was like opening the floodgates," Andrews says. About 10% of the employees were "ideators" who actually entered an idea in the system. A large percent were collaborators, who would chime in on submitted ideas. A third type of user emerged that Andrews calls "connectors." These employees didn't collaborate or submit ideas, but suggested other employees who might be interested or who had been involved in similar projects.

Citi ran the Challenge on a crowdsourcing platform from Silicon Valley startup Spigit. In addition to hosting the basic crowdsourcing, voting and leaderboard features (displaying the top 10 ideas, for instance), the Spigit software provided gamification. Participants earned virtual currency for their contributions to the Challenge, which they later could use to bet on the ideas they thought had the most potential. "The Spigit tool itself was built by two traders and a lot of bankers got it, there was a lot of engagement around the trading piece of the campaign."

The top 10 teams created videos of their concept which were posted on the site. Through the trading process, the top four ideas were selected, and presented to a panel of senior leaders that included CAO Don Callahan; Deborah Hopkins, chairman of Venture Capital and chief innovation officer for the firm; Michele Peluso, head of global consumer marketing; Francesco Vanni d'Archirafi, CEO of GTS; and Jud Linville, CEO of cards. The senior leadership combined two ideas into one. "We're now in the process of bringing that idea to concept and we plan to incubate it and bring it to market," Andrews says, although she could not divulge what any of the ideas were. She did hint that capabilities normally reserved for corporate and commercial clients will be extended to consumers.

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