Yolande Piazza’s vision for Citigroup and for the broader financial services industry is to become a “life partner” for consumers.

“Gone are the days where banks get to dictate when people have access to their money,” said the chief executive of Citi FinTech, a unit of Citigroup that develops mobile-first services. “How we start to figure out how to be that true financial partner is going to be critical for the industry.”

Step one for Piazza — who was promoted to her role in March, after serving as interim CEO of the group since August 2016 — was launching a revised mobile app that combines banking, wealth management, money movement and authentication.

Customers using the new mobile application can open brokerage accounts, execute trades, chat with their banker, and transfer funds between their accounts with Citibank and linked checking and brokerage accounts — all using just an account number.

Yolanda Piazza, CEO of Citi FinTech.
“We don’t assume we have all the best solutions internally,” Yolande Piazza said, explaining Citi's decision to partner with API developers. Erin Patrice O'Brien

But being a financial life partner is about more than good mobile apps, said Piazza, who ranks for the first time among our Women to Watch this year.

“It’s being present in social media sites. It’s about being able to talk to the customer in a way that’s more personalized and helps to educate them to make financial decisions,” she said. “We have the means to do that now, through technology, so I see the future being harnessing that technical power to serve customers in a very different way.”

Nobody is spending vast amounts of time on banks’ websites and mobile apps, so Citi has realized that being present in consumers’ lives means being available on whatever sites, apps and devices they use regularly. In addition to social media, this includes preferred merchant sites and all kinds of apps, whether for financial management, peer-to-peer payments or even health care.

See the most recent rankings:

One way Piazza has been pursuing her “life partner” vision is by accelerating Citi’s open banking strategy, which makes it easier for other companies to work with the bank’s apps and integrate services that complement their own.

Citi was one of the first U.S. banks to open application programming interfaces — software gateways that let applications work together — to third parties. In November 2016, Piazza expanded this effort and launched a global API Developer Hub.

“We don’t assume we have all the best solutions internally,” she said, explaining the decision to partner with API developers.

“So we now expose those APIs in different countries, we do hackathons, and many of those fintech companies come in and demo solutions connected to our APIs, so they can see how they operate in a real-world scenario.”

By August of this year, 2,400 developers had activated accounts on the hub and 250 organizations had used the APIs to create more than 300 applications. For instance, 1-800-FLOWERS used it to let the retailer’s customers pay for bouquets with Citi card points.

“When we first started to engage with companies to allow them to pay with points, it was a nine-month development effort and it was very costly,” Piazza said. “Now we can do it in a matter of days.”

Read more about Citi women:

There are also companies in the know-your-customer and anti-money laundering compliance space leveraging Citi’s APIs. “I think the whole concept around white labeling banking services has a lot of runway,” Piazza said.

Another group playing with Citi’s APIs are health care companies and benefits providers. A third-party benefits provider might use Citi’s payment mechanisms to offer services to large corporations and thus be able to provide a seamless process for consumers.

“Today, even if people have a policy payment card, they have to deal in some cases with sending receipts,” Piazza said. “So a health care company is looking at, ‘how can we help provide a financial payment solution to customers?’

Taking advantage of Citi’s Money Movement API, a medical benefits provider could allow hospital bills to be reviewed and electronically paid by a patient’s insurance provider, without requiring the consumer to submit them, for instance. “Leveraging APIs makes it that much easier and simpler,” Piazza said.