Citicorp's technology strategists may have much more up their sleeves than digital cash (see article at left), yet they don't leave the impression they are out to conquer the world.
Quite the contrary. Under the leadership of chief technology officer Colin Crook, they are clearly not the take-no-prisoners breed of past eras. Where people in their places once may have blustered about Citicorp's being light-years ahead of the bank technology norm, this generation couches its mission more in terms of public service.
Mr. Crook has spent much of his six years as chief technology officer pounding that message home, and after so much persistence it may actually be getting across.
Two indications are the Financial Services Technology Consortium and the Smart Card Forum. After organizing the two as industry trade groups, Citicorp had to work to dispel suspicions that the organizations were mere puppets of the banking giant.
Mr. Crook faced plenty of skepticism from people who remembered how, in the 1970s, Citicorp tried to foist its home-grown credit card encoding system, known as Magic Middle, on an industry that had peaceably settled on the magnetic stripe standard.
When Citicorp was convinced it had superior automated teller machine technology, it tried to sell it to other banks. No one bought it. Other bankers preferred to enrich manufacturers of off-the-shelf hardware rather than the hated giant from New York.
And when the rest of banking opened its ATMs to sharing across networks, Citibank in New York smugly held to its go-it-alone strategy - until it stopped attracting enough new customers to make it worthwhile.
While Citicorp was finally eating its humble pie on ATM sharing, Mr. Crook's strategists had bigger changes in the works. Pleading guilty on behalf of his company to the cultural offense of "hubris," and using phrases like "those days are gone," he wanted Citicorp to lead its industry to the realization that it would have to work cooperatively to assimilate all of what new technology had to offer.
In 1993 Citicorp had won enough support to incorporate the not-for- profit Financial Services Technology Consortium. BankAmerica, Bank of Boston, Chase and Chemical, NationsBank, and others jumped on board, along with dozens of technology providers and research institutions in associate roles.
The Smart Card Forum is an even bigger success around the world, with well over 200 members. In a symbolic rite of passage, Citicorp vice president Catherine Allen, its chief organizer, yielded the chairmanship last year to a Visa executive.
Last fall, Mr. Crook received the forum's distinguished achievement award, then gave a speech warning that it had still to build the "enabling, alliance-based infrastructure" necessary for the technology to grow.