Citicorp's technology mastermind, Colin Crook, has said he will retire at the end of June.
Mr. Crook, who will be 55 when he steps down, was behind many of the technological advances that have solidified Citicorp's reputation as an innovator.
He oversaw major advances in the bank's global computer architecture and was instrumental in organizing the Smart Card Forum and Financial Services Technology Consortium.
Mr. Crook joined Citicorp in 1990 at the behest of chairman John S. Reed, after a long career in the technology industry.
With early-retirement age approaching, Mr. Crook said, he decided he no longer wanted a full-time job.
"These jobs are very demanding," he said."You just don't have time to take care of your personal interests and your private life, and I want to focus on that."
Mr. Crook said he broached the subject of retirement last July with Mr. Reed, who "really wasn't too happy about it." Mr. Crook finally persuaded Mr. Reed to accept the resignation and announce it to the operating committee last week.
Mr. Crook, whose title is senior technology officer, said he is trying to recruit a successor.
An engineer by training, Mr. Crook has been a vocal proponent of cryptography-law reform. He is also outspoken about the security dangers of the Internet-one reason Citibank does not have a Web banking product.
"He's the smartest person I've ever worked for, and also one of the nicest," said Catherine A. Allen, a former Citibank vice president who recently became chief executive officer of the Bankers Roundtable's Banking Industry Technology Secretariat.
Ms. Allen called Mr. Crook a "visionary strategist" who blazed a new trail in establishing strategic relationships between Citibank and technology vendors. Out of that type of "alliance thinking" came ideas like the Smart Card Forum, a multi-industry effort to study and promote new card technologies. Ms. Allen spearheaded its organization.
It was Mr. Crook, she said, who convinced top bankers everywhere that technology meant more than back-end processing.
"He has been instrumental in changing the mental model of senior executives," said Ms. Allen.
Emphasizing cooperation and collaboration with peers, Mr. Crook has also been credited with changing other bankers' attitude toward Citibank, which he said historically suffered from hubris-his word.
The Financial Services Technology Consortium "marked a real change in policy in terms of (Citi's) coming out and getting involved," said John Doggett, director of applied technology at Bank of Boston Corp. The group's ability to rally support from banks, businesses, government, and academia resulted from "Colin's vision," Mr. Doggett said, "and I think that has been a major contribution."
Within Citibank, Mr. Crook has guided projects like the Electronic Money System, a digital cash invention that the bank plans to test soon with other companies.
On his watch, Citibank also recognized the importance of networks ahead of other banks.
"People don't understand this, but we changed the entire technology infrastructure of a U.S. retail bank system without missing a beat, without a single perceived problem to the customer," he said. "All that was done over weekends across the entire branch system."
Washington's failure to approve legislation allowing stronger forms of cryptography, which he sees as crucial to on-line commerce and banking, stands as "one of my disappointments," Mr. Crook said.
"People are extremely sensitive about money, and I think it's a judgment issue when is the right time" to put transactional capability on the Internet. "We're beginning to emerge into the area now, the gray zone, where people are perhaps prepared to start taking the risk."
In a telephone interview, Mr. Crook said it is his personal opinion that smart cards will be more valuable for authenticating people's identities on the Internet than for handling small cash payments.
Calling it "extremely hard, if not impossible, to do long-range planning in technology these days," Mr. Crook said he intends to carve out some post-retirement role for himself in the world of financial services technology.
Asked to name his greatest accomplishment at Citibank, Mr. Crook said: "I think having survived for seven and a half years is my first accomplishment. I say that a little tongue-in-cheek, but I think obviously there is some truth to it."