CMO interview: Building consumer credit and insight at Citi

Head of consumer sales and marketing shares how this banking provider is riding the waves of significant financial services change

Samantha Elliott
Samantha Elliott


Maturity around customer insight

Customer insight and centricity has to be the foundation, and Elliott says Citi has progressed in terms of realising the importance of being customer-led.

“Everyone intrinsically knows you need customers to like you and your products to be able to grow. It’s understood but what that actually means is different in different people’s minds,” she says. “Citi has come a long way even in the last 12 months from doing a lot of talking, to taking real strides and starting walking the walk.”  

One illustration is its “strong customer obsession program”, a regionally driven initiative. “It’s encouraging everyone across the business – not just people on the phones – to understand what customers want and what they are saying,” Elliott explains. “This is so people who are developing products, or credit scorecards are thinking about the customer.

“What do people want? We investigate then bring that data back to the business so we can then make those more informed decisions. We’ve evolved from even just what I’d call an A/B testing approach, where the data says A works better than B; to being more about the audiences. A might work generally better than B, but actually if you look at the audiences, A works better for millennials but B works better for Gen X.

“Certainly in acquisitions, we’re able to articulate the business results off the back of those decisions.”

Citi is also investing into extracting more customer insights. A recent example is implementing speech analytics in the call centre.

“Given we’re 98 per cent digital in our marketing, we can jump straight in and make changes on the fly on all our assets and be feeding those insights in so the call centre isn’t inundated with the calls, customers aren’t as confused and the campaign is more successful. It’s a good feedback loop,” Elliott says.  

Elliott’s team also has brand tracking in place looking at awareness, consideration and preference metrics and closely monitors top-down and bottom-up Net Promoter Score (NPS).

“The exciting thing to see is people are now digging into NPS more to ask questions. Our NPS recently jumped +30 points, which is great, but people are also asking why. It’s not just about when things go wrong, it’s about wanting to know more,” she says.  

“For a marketer sitting at the leadership table, it’s great people are really talking about the customer. When someone presents a new product concept, the first question our CEO is asking is if we’ve done customer research on this.”

Elliott believes the recent Royal Commission has done great things for the finance industry too. She notes post-commission regulatory reform is helping consumers feel more comfortable and restoring trust in the system.

The rise of banking disruptors such as the neobanks is another trend keeping Citi on its toes. “The consumers’ expectations every time they have a better and faster experience are rising. We’re investing to make sure our platforms and products are as easy to use as possible,” Elliott says.

“We are competing against startups, who have some benefits of starting from scratch, yet we also have a foundation for reliable infrastructure. The security and controls are very firmly in place, so sometimes we don’t move as quickly as we’d like. But we know we’re heading in the right direction and making changes in the right way for sustainability and protection of our customers.”

Another disruption is the open banking regime. Again, while challenging, Elliott sees it as further opportunity to drive innovation through the business.

“It’s not just about bringing people in the door. It’s got to be about how we engage with existing customers and proactively retain them by firstly providing products that meet their needs, then communicating in a way that’s relevant and timely with a 360-degree view of the consumer using data from across the organisation,” she says. “With propensity models and mining our data, we can understand the behaviours or red flags showing someone is starting to disengage with a product, and proactively reach out to… suggest a different credit card might suit their needs now.

“It’s not a linear journey but as lifestyles and life stages change, people need different products. We’re fortunate we have a full breadth of products to be able to offer that.”

Partnerships will be key to ongoing growth. An example is with flybuys, a membership base Citi has been able to access using deeply partner-linked offers.

“It’s given us a great opportunity to connect with audiences that may not have previously had an affinity with the Citi brand,” Elliott adds. “We do have very successful and longstanding sponsorships in place we continue to invest in.”

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