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Citi Expands M-Banking to More Smartphone Devices

Citi (New York) is expanding its mobile banking offering to accommodate customers using a broad array of smartphones, including most BlackBerry and Palm devices, in addition to the iPhone.

The new Citi Mobile offering allows users of web-enabled mobile devices to view Citi account balances and account activity, pay bills and set up recurring payments, make transfers between Citi accounts, locate Citi branches and ATMs, and connect to customer service.

"Our main goal here is to bring this new convenience to the largest possible number of customers," Marylou Dowd, director of customer experience for Citibank Online and Citi Mobile, tells BS&T. "So it makes sense to make your service work on as many devices as you can. We had already rolled out one device-specific version of Citi Mobile for the iPhone back in March, so now we wanted to ensure we covered as much as we could of the rest of the mobile-device population."

Citi Mobile for smartphones relies on the same login credentials users would enter for online banking. Dowd likens it to a subset of the bank's online banking platform. On the front end is an automated device-detection layer so that Citi can show smartphone users a different rendering of its screens. Mobile Money Ventures, a joint venture between Citi and South Korea's SK Telecom run by 2008 BS&T Elite 8 alum Steve Kietz, was instrumental in providing this technology, according to Dowd.

There are also other functions that Citi hasn't included in this first rollout, "but it's really all the same engine," she says. "Instead of having to spend time and effort designing and coding specific versions for various devices and for specific operating systems, we were able to focus on ensuring that we addressed the various form factors with a very small number of 'flavors.' It's the skin, but the underlying muscle and bones are all the same."

One of the features of Citi Mobile for smartphones is that it allows customers to set up access via their mobile device, even if they've never visited Citi Online, its full-featured online banking service. In addition to creating credentials on the go, users of Citi Mobile can change their credentials and pick new ones remotely without the need for logging in with their PCs.

Dowd says adding the smartphone functionality is just another part of the bank's layered approach to mobile banking. It started in 2007 with the original Citi Mobile downloadable app, jumped to the release of the iPhone app earlier this year and was followed up by SMS-based banking services for Citi's credit card customers.

"Soon we'll be making our iPhone app available to any customer who has a Citi credit card, even if they don't have a banking relationship with us. And conversely, we're planning to extend our SMS offering to bank customers," she explains. "Layer after layer, our aim is to offer a full menu of options so that each user can pick and choose according to his or her taste and convenience. There are times when you just want a quick bite on the go—that would be a brief text-banking balance inquiry, maybe in the middle of texting back-and-forth with friends. And then there are other times when you're hungry for a fuller meal—that would be a smartphone session, to stretch the metaphor. What we really want to say to our users is that we are going to offer them every possible way of banking on the go, so they can choose whichever best satisfies their needs at that particular time."

Other features will continue to be added to Citi Mobile, provided they are deemed useful. "We're persuaded that the mobile experience needs to be uncluttered and to the point, so we don't want to add bells and whistles to complicate the experience unless we're certain that they truly add value," Dowd notes.

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