Citigroup sacrificed speed for perceived tech reliability by sticking with overnight batch processing on mainframes for core retail banking in North America in a recent migration of two proprietary systems to FIS Global's Systematics. But keeping domestic deposit customers on what amounts to decades-old, memo-post methods could prove riskier than the newer real-time processing alternative, and not just because mobile banking is taking off.

Ceding processing speed, even temporarily, as a means to more easily make its North American retail operation part of Citi's hoped-for common global platform, could buoy emerging contenders to make inroads, particularly if banks such as BBVA Compass, Santander and ICICI leverage the flexibility gained from adopting real-time core engines to acquire more American banks or fund branch expansion.

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