Citibank, which has been experimenting with various Internet sites offering different retail services, has decided to throw more weight behind its MyCiti.com Web site, which offers account aggregation, Citi officials said. And it will reassess Finance.com, its general-interest financial advice site.
The MyCiti.com site makes Citibank the first commercial banking institution to offer account aggregation, according to Citi officials but others are planning to introduce it any day.
MyCiti.com, a free service for all Citibank customers, is poised to become the Citigroup subsidiarys marquee site. It lets users pull together financial information from different institutions, and collects in one place many of the services and products under the Citigroup umbrella: Citi credit cards, Travelers insurance, Salomon Smith Barney investment products, Primerica personal financial planning tools, and CitiFinancial loans.
If we dont provide a broad array of services, someone else will, said Robert B. Willumstad, vice chairman of Citis global consumer group, at a conference Tuesday sponsored by Jupiter Communications in New York. Aggregation is also a great opportunity for cross-selling and stickiness, he said.
Citis intention to refocus Finance.com, a site that Citibank has sponsored quietly for about a year, may mark the end of the companys testing of Web sites that do not bear the Citi name. It is Citis second retreat from an online effort not fully integrated with the traditional bank; on Aug. 1, Citibank stopped accepting new customers for Citi f/I, an Internet-only bank similar to Bank One Corp.s WingspanBank.com, which failed to attract enough customers during its test phase.
For the moment, the nations largest bank will emphasize two sites: its bread-and-butter Citibank.com site, which gives customers online access to their Citibank accounts, and MyCiti.com, which lets them pull together accounts from various financial institutions and seek advice based on the complete portrait.
The shift is a result from a declaration by upper management that the Internet has matured and should be woven into the direct workings of the bank, said Noor Ahmed Menai, managing director of the new eConsumer group at Citibank.
In an interview, Mr. Menai described the concept behind MyCiti.com as a moment of Zen that is not really about making a profit, but about what we can do for the customer. He said the site, which links to Citibank.com, is an example of cross-selling the grown-up way, and investing in the relationship and not the product.
Mr. Menai said his new eConsumer group retains the responsibilities of its predecessor division, eCiti which was envisioned as a separate development group and Internet incubator but has the added charge of integrating the Internet with the companys core businesses.
The eCiti approach seemed to distance the bank from the practice of doing business on the Internet, Mr. Menai said. The current moves are all meant to ensure that the Internet becomes a fundamental component of the banks business strategies.
The low-key introduction of MyCiti.com points to another of Citis Internet approaches. Because Web sites can be phased in and out quietly, the company is taking advantage of the Internets flexibility to constantly test consumers latest appetites for online finance.
MyCiti.com may reflect everything Citi has learned to date. Not only can users access aggregated information from diverse accounts, they can also consolidate and track bill payments, get e-mail, view information on their frequent flier miles, and make travel reservations on the site. In two months, Citi will provide advice on investment products and strategies.
In keeping with Citis usual routine, the sites developers initially refrained from marketing it, and instead focused on building consumer its usage, ensuring its security, and maximizing its functionality.
Citis recent launch of an aggressive advertising campaign for MyCiti indicates that the site survived the experimentation phase and is headed toward full rollout. Over the last few weeks, ads for MyCiti have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. The company is now working on a larger ad campaign to introduce the product to non-Citibank customers.
Meanwhile, Citi is mulling what to do with Finance.com, its valuable URL. Mark Rodgers, a Citigroup spokesman, said no decision has been made.
Over the past two years, there has been a focus on branded and unbranded technology to focus on how best to develop the technologies, Mr. Rodgers said. Now, the focus is heavily on branded technology, and taking the technology from the unbranded initiatives and rolling it into branded ones.
Paul Jamieson, a senior analyst at Gomez Advisors, said: Citibank has come to the realization that to strengthen its strategic focus on e-finance initiatives they needed to centralize not only the products but also the integration throughout the corporation in a central department. MyCiti is the cornerstone of this effort to project a unified brand of e-commerce initiatives to their customers which unify all of Citigroups products.
The integrated site is a perfect launching pad for cross-selling all those products, Citi officials said. As the MyCiti matures and customers divulge more information about their financial goals, Citi intends to be there as a trusted adviser.
Citibank is training 60 call-center representatives dedicated to MyCiti, who will answer basic product and operational questions for customers. It is also developing proprietary software to dispense basic advice to users. Customers will be able to communicate with the bank through e-mail, the call center, and Web callback.
Citi now faces the process of executing with excellence against its strategy and ensuring that the expectation of MyCiti for the customer is not only maintained but that it increases in functionality and integration, Mr. Jamieson said.