CITICORP IS capitalizing on its technological reach to make the world a smaller place for multinational corporations.
The banking giant is offering a new electronic access system that will give its wholesale banking clients access to account information and the ability to initiate transactions on a global basis.
The system, which updates the Citibanking service, will allow corporate clients in the areas of cash management, trade finance, and securities trading to compete more effectively around the globe.
"Our customer's needs are changing over time and many are moving into new geographic and product areas," said Bob Ford, director of client focus marketing. "Clients these days like [banking] products that roll everything into one package."
The Citibanking system is meant to build fee income by making it easier for companies to manage their cash, make funds transfers, and execute securities trades through Citicorp units worldwide. Clients get a single computerized point of entry into the bank for all the services and products they use.
For the New York-based institution, offering these services to clients is, in itself, a sign of the times. The bank realized hat for many large clients, it's no longer good enough to have a single terminal in New York. Clients with offices abroad want access to information on their accounts in Asia and Europe as well.
"Our customers have undergone a basic evolution in the way that they deal with us," said R.C. Leander Jr., vice president of global finance technology development. "Clients are making decisions all over the world and they really need a process to deal with Citibank that reflects the way they are structuring themselves."
"Technology is no longer a barrier when dealing with Citibank's various centers around the world," said Mike Pavey, associate director of operations at Legal and General Investments, a London-based investment firm with $40 billion in assets under management.
Citibank's payoff comes from increases in cash-management and securities processing fees and reductions in operating costs through the elimination of a multitude of older electronic access products for wholesale banking services.
"Clients get all their information from anywhere in the world in one place," Mr. Ford said. "If you can give the customer a cheaper, faster, better way of doing any of his transactions," transaction business is likely to increase.
Industry observers hold the view that for global-minded banks, offering such electronic access services has become the rule rather than the exception.
"Global customers are a main target area for all of the money center banks," said Donald E. McNees, director of New York financial services consulting at Towers Perrin. "But because everyone's after them, global cash management systems have become a commodity business."
What makes Citibanking different, Mr. Ford said, is the ability to group and collect vital information from anywhere in the world at any time.
"It's the same stuff you've been able to find in other electronic banking systems but they tended to be focused on individual areas or geographies," he said. "We've taken all that functionality and put it on one platform that delivers all of it."
Mr. Pavey said Citibanking has armed Legal and General with a more efficient way to communicate information on trade instructions, reconciliations, and dividends payments.
Getting a tighter grasp on its customer base is certainly crucial to Citicorp, which returned to the black last year after some heavy losses. The bank reported net income of $722 million for 1992 compared with a $457 million loss in 1991.
Citibanking's update, under development for two years, still has a long way to go. Currently it provides access only to cash management functions, including such garden variety services as reports on transactions and account balances. Mr. Ford expects the securities trading and trade finance modules to be rolled out after the third quarter of this year.
At the foundation of this new component to Citibanking is a message data base that contains all of a customer's transactions. Messages are sent to the data base by the client, by Citicorp, or by third parties over the bank's telecommunications network.
The sum of those parts allows clients to shape data for their own needs for information, transaction initiation, and system access. The reporting functions let users gather and consolidate information from their operations anywhere in the world. Citibanking currently gets information from Citicorp units in 90 countries.
Citicorp is not targeting just the big guys with the latest installment of Citibanking. The service provides customers with a different set of options depending on volume and data security needs and the types of systems they use.
Citicorp designed a personal computer workstation for individual operators, a PC network for multi-users, and a mainframe version for larger companies.
The PC systems are based in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system.
Officials at Citicorp would not talk about the cost of developing the latest version of Citibanking. However, analysts agree that the simple fact that the bank has invested time and money in the product is enough to make them think that the expenses were justified.
"Because it's a terrific area of focus for the bank, you have to expect it will generate revenue," said Merrill Lynch analyst Judah S. Kraushaar.
When the 81,000-employee bank put out the word three years ago that it would only concern itself with no-nonsense projects that seemed crucial to its financial success, it dropped some of its more ambitious technology projects.
Citibanking not only survived that initiative, but also got the nod to expand.
"Citibank is one of the major cash management firms in the world and they're looking to protect and defend their market share," Mr. Kraushaar said. "Services for global clients are part of that."
Mr. Ford said that if things go as planned, about 800 clients around the world will be using Citibanking's new electronic access by the end of the year. "The key is creating an environment where it doesn't matter where you are in the world, you can do your banking," he said.