Mobile and online services are at the center of Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit's declared retail strategy, but for years its initiatives on those fronts had been choppy at best. Now, in an effort to improve the quality, and volume, of its customer interactions through electronic channels, Citi is turning to a noted e-commerce pioneer.

In October, Citi hired Tracey Weber as its managing director of Internet and mobile for North America consumer banking. Weber, formerly Travelocity North America president and chief operating officer, had spent the better part of a decade at that company, where she pushed through numerous customer service innovations, such as providing ticket buyers with pre-purchase seat availability information.


Weber says her focus at Travelocity had been figuring out customer's needs, not so much from a transaction perspective, but more as they related to the design and feel of Web services. "I think my hiring is a sign that Citi very much wants to put design and customer experience at the forefront of everything that we do," says Weber, who also had a brief stint at Barnes & Noble in 2010.


She takes charge of a business that has been very active. In the last 18 months, Citi has unveiled text banking, enhanced its mobile browsers, introduced iPhone and Android apps, and launched its online Mobile Showcase to instruct customers on using mobile banking services.


"We still think that there is a lot of education that has to happen with consumers about how to use mobile for everyday banking; so making it visual for them we thought was a good investment," Weber says. An early sign of progress she cites is 60 percent growth in mobile usage by Citi's credit card customers last year.


Citi also ramped up its social networking chops by recruiting Frank Eliason—who pioneered Twitter-based customer service at cable giant Comcast—to lead a similar effort via @AskCiti.


Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Aite Group, says the hiring of Weber and Eliason was a savvy move for Citi to gain fresh ideas. Citi's mobile and consumer banking leadership had been in a state of flux, with former online and mobile leader Liza Landsman leaving her post last August after less than a year. Citi's former North American consumer banking chief Terri Dial also was replaced in January 2010 when Latin America head Manuel Medina-Mora's role was expanded to oversee consumer banking in all the Americas.


"People who spend 20 years in banking know the industry very well but often tend to be narrowly focused in terms of understanding how people want to be engaged with new channels," says Shevlin. "The banking world looks at things very much from a transaction perspective."


Weber's hiring isn't the first of Citi's unorthodox mobile moves. In 2006 it became an early adopter of a mobile peer-to-peer payment platform (Obopay), and in 2008 it backed a joint venture with South Korean carrier SK Telecom to market a mobile payments platform to financial firms, payments networks and even wireless carriers. More recently, Citi reportedly began working with Google and MasterCard on a contactless payments platform.


As for future plans, Weber says that Citi is exploring adding P2P payments to its mobile app and is looking at ways to capitalize on the popularity ofthe iPad.

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