Citibank has struck a deal it hopes will make it a community bank-on the Internet.
Working with the Mining Co., the New York bank intends to create "virtual communities" where customers can interact with each other and with Citibank representatives.
"This is a perfect medium for us to leverage, to maintain, and build customer relationships," said Josh Grotstein, Citicorp's newly appointed division executive of global Internet/intranet programs.
"Communities of interest expand beyond national boundaries," he said.
Under terms of their accord, the Citicorp unit is the only financial institution the Mining Co. will work with for the next three years.
The companies said the virtual communities they develop, which will include helping people navigate the Internet and find others with common interests, could eventually be sold into other industries such as automobiles, travel, and pharmaceuticals.
"Our little 62-person company and Citibank, with 90,000 employees worldwide, is a perfect marriage," said Scott Kurnit, founder and chief executive officer of the Mining Co., also based in New York. "They have resources and stability, and we move at Net speed."
The goal is to have "living, breathing people guiding users through the Net," said Mr. Kurnit.
The Mining Co. already has trained 500 guides in fields like travel, golf, and retirement planning. Over the next few months it will train bank employees on how to steer Web site visitors to new products and services.
Under the Mining Co. approach, a customer looking for advice on credit cards could visit a credit community, where a Citibank guide would discuss services and answer questions via electronic mail.
Citibank customers in 98 countries will have access to the communities, which also will feature bulletin boards and chat rooms. Users will be able to interact with one another in real-time.
Citi executives see enormous potential in the on-line communities for sales and customer service.
"The Web is all about relationships and particularly community relationships," said Mr. Grotstein. "We want to enhance our relationship with our 55 million consumer customers around the world, cross-sell, and acquire new customers."
Citicorp expects to have a prototype available in four to six months.
The Mining Co. is a division of General Internet Inc., New York. It was launched April 21 and operates hundreds of World Wide Web sites in a variety of interest areas. Those sites conceivably could be linked to Citibank's or vice versa.
"There could be a cobranded community in fishing or gardening," said Mr. Grotstein. "We're looking to get financial services into other areas of interest relevant to our customers."
Edward D. Horowitz, who became Citicorp's executive vice president of advanced development in January, negotiated the Mining Co. deal. He learned of the company in his previous job as senior vice president of technology at Viacom Inc.
Mr. Grotstein, who joined Citibank in mid-July from Prodigy Services Co., is administrator of the project.
The deal provides the latest in a series of clues to Citibank's global Internet plans. The eye-catching www.citibank.com Web site offers only information, not transaction services. Top officials had long said the Net was not safe enough.
After the U.S. government's recent move to allow export of Web browsers with strong data encryption, statements from Citibank suggested the security issue was being addressed to its satisfaction.
Speaking two weeks ago to the Financial Services Technology Consortium in Toronto, Jerry Rao, an executive who reports to Mr. Horowitz, presented a vision of "secure Web-based banking without traumas" but said it is a highly complex "work in progress."