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Citi's Kietz Says Customer Experience Makes the Difference in Mobile

Citi's new m-banking venture allows 'intrapreneur' Steven Kietz to put the customer into every step of the product development process.

The term "intrapreneur" is one that is not often thrown around much in common discourse. But the label — loosely translated as someone who starts small business ventures from within large companies — fits Steven Kietz quite nicely. Kietz, EVP, growth ventures and innovation, for New York-based Citi's ($2.1 trillion in assets) Global Consumer Group business, is also the CEO of a Citi-generated start-up unit called Mobile Money Ventures (MMV), a joint venture between Citi and South Korea's SK Telecom to design a new model for mobile commerce.

Although a marketing man by trade, Kietz is no stranger to technology, and he immediately recognized the opportunities presented by mobile banking to enhance the customer relationship. "I've always been interested in technology and bringing the technology to customers," he says. "So [MMV] was a pretty exciting opportunity for me. What was stimulating was that it was a new market just emerging."

His decision to run MMV was carefully weighed against the general direction of his career, Kietz says. "Jeff Semenchuk, EVP in Citigroup Growth Ventures and Innovation, asked me if I would be willing to run this new company for Citi. I looked at the point where I was in my career," Kietz explains. "This opportunity gave me the chance, with the backing of Citi, to be an entrepreneur. I could either take the traditional path and fight my way up the corporate ladder, or I could take a new path that would create new opportunities for me to develop a new business and create value where there was none before."

Kietz chose the latter, and he hasn't looked back. Now he finds himself in a position to help shape a newly emerging financial services channel.

"Mobile isn't about cutting up the pie," Kietz explains. "It's about building the pie. You want to create revenue streams for banks, carriers, mobile financial services providers and payments companies in a business area that is untapped today to create value for the customer in a way that will be green and really build customer preference."

Steven Kietz, Citi Global Consumer GroupkCreating a Better Customer Experience

Kietz says the idea behind MMV, which will become an independent entity in 2009, is to create a better customer experience on the mobile device. That — and not providing cheaper services — is what should define the mobile channel, he asserts. "It's about focusing on the customer, ... not whether it's cheaper to send e-statements this way," Kietz explains. "It's how to get the customers to use the information and have a different experience because of how we communicate with them. The breakthrough is not the Internet on the phone."

To support his position, Kietz cites the results of a focus group on mobile banking conducted in Hong Kong. According to Kietz, the top two features consumers in the study sought were both related to improving the experience — active and passive customization. With active customization, customers are able to go to a bank's site and customize the way they view and use the mobile service on their cell phones, he says, noting that there would be a variety of features and buttons users could add or remove.

Passive customization occurs behind the scenes, Kietz explains, and involves the use of analytics to determine customer preferences. "Analytics is the key to success here," he states. "Say there's a customer who, nine out of 10 times, goes straight to his stock portfolio when he uses Citi Mobile, but it takes him five clicks to get there. With passive customization, once we have this knowledge we can design it so that he can go to his portfolio in just one click. You want it to be a learning device."

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