There's nothing in Gary Greenwald's demeanor that indicates he's at all worried about being in the middle of an economic crisis that has damaged the reputation of the banking industry. In fact, he couldn't be happier.
As chief innovation officer with New York-based Citi Global Transaction Services ($1.8 trillion in assets), Greenwald is in the midst of a treasury management renaissance of sorts. With the financial crisis -- which forced Citi to take TARP funds and raise cash -- pummeling banks' retail banking operations, commercial/corporate banking practices across the industry are seeing a surge in business. Not only that, the banks themselves are finally looking at this area as a rock of stability to which they can cling, and many, including Citi GTS, are pushing treasury management into the limelight.
"The crisis put treasury front and center with the corporates, and the crisis put global transaction services front and center within the banks. That's certainly the case at Citi," Greenwald says. "The daily lifeblood of the world's economy comes back to focus on payments, cash management and treasury. When the crisis hit, the corporate boards wanted to know their liquidity positions -- how they could use working capital as funding sources. It really made treasury central. ... It became clear that transaction banking is what Citi does for its clients."
Echoing the sentiment of economist and Stanford University professor Paul Romer, Greenwald adds, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste -- and we didn't waste this crisis."
Corporate Banking 2.0
In fact, Citi GTS and Greenwald's team have been busy preparing for the September release of the bank's next-generation online corporate banking portal: CitiDirect BE (for "Banking Evolution"). Slated for introduction at the 2009 Sibos conference in Hong Kong, CitiDirect BE was built from the ground up to have an extensible, open architecture and will further push the functionality and business model of the original CitiDirect, according to Greenwald.
The new portal, he relates, was designed with input from Citi's corporate clients and sports a more up-to-date Web interface. Features include electronic bank account management (eBAM), a more robust analytics capability and dashboards to permit more-dynamic decision making, Greenwald says, adding that BE incorporates Web 2.0 concepts to create a more interactive experience for end users.
But, "This isn't Facebook for corporate treasurers," Greenwald notes. "It's collaborative Web 2.0, as in the way we interact online."
One of the portal's Web 2.0-like highlights is a collection of videocasts of Citi GTS experts sharing their knowledge on topics that are important to the bank's treasury clients, Greenwald relates. "We're not making these major productions," he explains. "We're just putting desktop cameras on our experts' desks. It will be kind of like YouTube. Videos will be posted to the BE interface where users can search by topic and comment on whether they found the information useful. It's a mechanism by which the insights of Citi's people can be shared more broadly."
The launch of BE at a time when most banks are looking to curtail spending illustrates that technology can indeed be a competitive differentiator, even during a financial crisis. "Technology is not [just] support to a product but is, in many ways, the product," Greenwald says. "Tech is not just an item to be winnowed down to the cheapest level. Your tech spending should be optimized, not reduced. Tech for us is not an add-on, and it shows in the intellectual property we put into hiring people in the tech organization and on the business side where we see how we can commercialize opportunities to harness technology in different ways."