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Citibank Is Shedding Individualistic Image


Catherine A. Allen, who ushered the Smart Card Forum through its formative stages, personifies a change sweeping through Citicorp.

Speaking a language of cooperation between companies and across industries, Ms. Allen indicates that Citicorp has shed its historical insistence on calling its own technological tune.

The harmony emanating from the Smart Card Forum has attracted about 30 dues-payers, including leaders from financial services and high technology.

Another 30 have shown an interest in joining. Along with another Citicorp-initiated banking research project called Fintech, it tends to disarm any remaining criticism about Citicorp's being arrogantly out of touch with market preferences.

'Times Have Changed'
"Citicorp is participating because times have changed," Ms. Allen said in a recent interview. "Cooperation is necessary for common industry standards."

Standards would dispel confusion, allowing cards equipped with computer chips to be used in multiple applications, say, telephones and banking machines.

In promoting this movement, Citicorp has indeed come a long way. The automated teller machines it designed in the 1970s utilized a card-reading system called Magic Middle, developed by Citicorp and incompatible with the prevailing industry standard of magnetic-stripe cards.

Reed Changes Direction
In recent years, Citicorp has revamped its ATMs and cards to conform to networking standards. It joined the Cirrus ATM system and is considering dropping its last taboo by joining the NYCE regional system.

Ironically, the Magic Middle and the go-it-alone strategy were originally championed by the technology group under John S. Reed, Citicorp's current chairman. He and his chief technology officer, Colin Crook, have changed direction.

"The technology strategy in the bank now is in line with global availability," said Ms. Allen, vice president of business development and strategic alliances in Mr. Crook's office of the senior technology officer.

Industry Standards Sought
"We are working with groups like (the Smart Card Forum) to promote the adoption of industry standards," Ms. Allen said.

Each forum member has self-interests but has opted for group action.

Ms. Allen has been praised for keeping lines of communication open with other interested parties, like the Smart Card Industry Association and Electronic Funds Transfer Association.

That kind of effort can only help later when the Smart Card Forum approaches the highly structured national and international committees that write technical standards.

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