Interview with Sanjeev Kapur, CMO of Citi India


PW: How important is technology for the success of the modern marketer?

SK: Technology has always played a critical yet understated role in the success of any brand. Superior delivery of benefits across categories ranging from fairness creams to razors, drugs to cars or for that matter any household product, has been contingent on the research and technology prowess of a company.

Today, technology and in particular digitization of information is impacting the success of marketers, more than ever before. As per a recent release, more than two billion people use broadband today as compared to ten years ago and three billion people are likely to have smartphones in the next 10 years. This has and will continue to fundamentally change the way clients consume information and therefore it is imperative for marketers today to not only embed their brand in the digital space but also provide convenient access through new devices to continue to be relevant to consumers.

The same is true for the financial services sector as well. Retail Banks in India have leveraged the digital medium to increase their distribution and for most modern banks the digital channels today have emerged as the largest customer touch point. Our survey shows that over 51% of Citibank India’s customers prefer to transact online. Over 60% have signed up for e-statements and nearly 90% of all customer communication is now electronic. There is a great opportunity for banks to further build on this reach by focusing on offering greater choice, convenience and control to their customers through not only the traditional internet banking channel but also the emerging Mobile, Tablet and Social Media platforms.

To summarize, I believe that there is no option but to embrace the rapid changes led by evolution of technology. Over the past decade several industries like music, photography have been totally transformed by software therefore only brands which are willing to constantly adapt will survive.

PW: What are your current marketing priorities & how does that translate to technology?

SK: Our goal is to improve our market share, disproportionate to our physical footprint and resources deployed in the marketplace. This requires us to build our product and brand preference through significantly stronger delivery of our value propositions. Technology can play a key role here and to start with, technology can help make banking faster and easier for our customers. A user friendly website, mobile interface, ATM technology helps us not only overcome our distribution limitation but also allows customers to do time consuming branch transactions instantly from their home or office.

Secondly, technology can help us customize products/offers bundles for our clients. For instance, our backend analytics has helped us understand the preferences of our customers such as where they like to dine, shop and how frequently they like to transact. Analyzing this data, we have constructed a recommendation engine, called ‘Citi For You’. The engine analyzes customer profile, transaction behavior and purchase preferences and suggests financial products and services that are most relevant.

Thirdly, technology also plays an important role in contextual delivery of propositions to help build product and brand relevance. A good example is our best in class CitMobile applications where we offer location based services – to find a nearby branch, ATM or dining offers. We also leverage technology to do contextual messaging in our ATMs wherein we centrally control communication of a product or offer depending on the location of our ATM e.g. ATM in mall ATM versus ATM in a branch. Another great example of leveraging technology in the offline world is our deployment of a solution at point of sale where-in our card clients can pay for purchases instantly using rewards points instead of cash. Today we have more than 1500 merchants offering this service and this contextual deployment significantly enhances the value of our credit cards in minds of our clients.


PW: In your organization how has technology played a role in customer acquisition or retention?

SK: Traditionally, Citibank is known for innovation in the financial sector. Be it, phone banking, ATMs or online banking capability for NRIs, we have been forerunners in using technology to provide superior service to our clients. In the long run, delivering superior service everyday is the best way to build loyalty for the brand and retain clients.

On the acquisition side, we are leveraging technology in three ways. Firstly Citibank has traditionally been one of the highest spenders on online for acquisition. One of the primary reasons is that media costs of digital channels have not been monetized commensurate to the reach delivered by the medium resulting in a cost arbitrage versus offline advertising. Secondly we have leveraged technology to provide an enhanced sales experience to our prospects. We are gradually moving our physical brochure ware to electronic format to deliver a more consultative & need based sales experience. Some of our new branches also have digital displays. We are also the largest buyer of OOH screens amongst financial brands which allows us to customize message for prospects by location. Thirdly and more recently we are using our social platforms like Facebook where we have more than 350,000 fans to engage prospects and enhance our brand relevance.



PW: There is a lot of debate on how sometimes the communities on social media for most brands are rarely the actual customers for that product of service. What is your view on this?

SK: Yes, it is likely that social communities have more prospects than customers. This should not come as a surprise as in the real world, for most brand at a given point of time, there would be more consumers considering the brand than using the brand. Even though there are likely to me more prospects, brands need to leverage these platforms to strengthen its relevance with the community by talking about or offering things which are interesting for the members. For brands like Citi, this may requires us to talk beyond serious financial products on things such as our association with Cricket, Theatre, and Dining etc. This helps members to start forming an impression that a particular brand speaks the same language as them and this enhanced relevance over a period of time is likely to translate into product usage.

However, in an attempt to aggressively monetize the communities dominated by prospects, brands should avoid product hard sell as that begins to undermine the spirit of the platform and repel the members to engage with the brand.


PW: How has technology played a role in new product development, market expansion or other areas?

SK: Unlike before, digital technology now allows clients to interact with brands and build a dialogue. This allows companies to get real time feedback on the quality of delivery of service, products etc and helps brands to continuously recalibrate and improve various facets of the product that impact the delivery of value proposition.

Technology could also be used to help build radically new products or sometimes take operational decisions.

An example of leveraging technology for building radically new products to serve new segments is biometric ATMs with voice navigation capability to serve illiterate microfinance clients. An interesting example of leveraging Social Media to take operational decisions is a ‘Crowd Sourced ATM’ initiative on Facebook wherein our fans on Facebook decided the location of our new ATMs in Delhi & Bangalore.


PW: Would you say the level of collaboration between the CMO and CIO in your organization was:

SK: Excellent. In the digital world, it is imperative for the CIO and CMO to work together closely. The CIO is the window to the realms of possibilities in the technology world – which a CMO can then interpret and bring about a solution for consumers. Given the rapid pace of change in technology both the CIO and CMO have to stay close to the ground and continuously look for opportunities to improve client delivery and stay ahead of competition.



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