The Women to Watch: No. 4, Citi's Yolande Piazza

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CEO, Citi FinTech, Citigroup

When Yolande Piazza stepped in as interim leader of Citi FinTech in August 2016, it was a critical time for the Citigroup unit. The previous CEO, Heather Cox, had left for USAA and the unit, formed in 2015, had yet to roll out a product.

“Yolande was under enormous pressure to deliver our first product launch,” said Linda Duncombe, the chief marketing officer for Citi FinTech, who at the time had just come on board. “Under Yolande’s leadership, we delivered on schedule and under budget.”

The “product” delivered in December consists of several features for the Citi mobile banking app that let customers do things like open brokerage accounts and trade; reach a banker with one click; log in with biometric authentification, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition; and transfer funds globally between Citi accounts and linked checking and brokerage accounts using just an account number.

One reason the transition was smooth is Piazza was already part of Citi FinTech — she was the chief operating officer.

She got the CEO job permanently in March, and is happy with it. “It’s not often that you find a role where even on the weekends, you’re anxious to get back to it,” she said. “I love what I’m doing.”

Citi FinTech has the trappings of a tech startup — an open-plan office, ping pong tables and beanbag chairs. Failures are celebrated with champagne. Work is driven by small teams with coaching from entrepreneurs-in-residence. Ideas are rapidly tested with customers and then evaluated, and potentially funded, by venture capital-like boards within Citi, called “growth boards.”

As the head of a fintech-startup-within-a-bank, Piazza finds being a nearly 30-year veteran of Citi is an advantage, helping her overcome obstacles on the business side. Prior to becoming COO of Citi FinTech, she served as chief administrative officer for consumer banking for seven years. She also was senior vice president of online applications and services for Diners Club and chief information officer of Citi’s Student Loans Corp.

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Piazza has also taken initiative in helping young women in fintech.

In 2014, she founded the “Future Women in IT” program, which aims to inspire middle and high school girls to pursue careers in technology. The program has reached more than 15,000 girls across the United States since inception.

The program began with 60 Citi volunteers meeting with girls in middle schools and eventually reached more than 20,000 nationwide. Students compete for 15 spots to work with Citi for a one-week paid internship, with the potential to be hired on for six-week technology jobs the next year.

“In banking and beyond, the future belongs to those who master technology and digital skills,” Piazza explained. “That future must include women in leadership roles and we, as an industry of bankers and tech specialists, must reach out to young women well before their college years, a period when many of them have already formed interests and career paths.”

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Fintech Digital banking Mobile banking Mobile technology Citigroup