Citibank Archives

Apple Touches Off First Wave of Mobile Banking Biometrics

By Jim Bruene on June 4, 2014 7:12 PM | Comments

image We've known this day was coming ever since Apple acquired AuthenTec two years ago for $350 million. That was real money back in the pre-Beats/Nest/Oculus days.

Monday, Apple made it official at its annual developers' conference: The fingerprint authentication system built into the iPhone 5S (Touch ID) will open to outside developers in the next iOS update (v8.0 expected in mid-September). That means that app publishers, including banks, credit unions & wallet providers, will be able to use it to provide initial authorization into a secure app. 

image The new feature was demonstrated on stage by logging in to Mint (see inset, screen cap tweeted by Bradley Leimer Monday). In the demo, Mint users are prompted to use the touchpad to open the app (the small type says, "Please authenticate in order to proceed"). Users are also given a password option.

Most likely, banks will use Touch ID, as well as other handset-resident biometric systems (note 1) to deliver "read-only" access to data. It's an approach that's been catching on around the world even before Apple's biometric wizardry. Citibank is the most recent to provide a no-login glimpse in its mobile app (called SnapShot), rolling it out nationwide two weeks ago (press release). It's also used at Westpac (NZ), Commonwealth (AU), Bank of the West, City Bank of Texas and many more (note 2).

For anything transactional, such as a wire transfer, banks will likely require additional authentication (see our Nine Circles of Security).

And of course, these security changes will generally need to be optional for customers until they become commonly accepted practices. Most users are still extremely wary of security on mobile phones, even though it is a marked improvement over the desktop (note 3).

While it's too early to know if any financial institutions will have it enabled by September, one fintech payment provider, CardFlight, wasted no time, announcing support for Touch ID just a few hours after the Apple keynote (note 4).


1. Celent's Jacob Jegher showed me his facial recognition login on his Android phone (Samsung?) at last month's FinovateSpring. Very cool, though he doesn't have it enabled since it slows up the login process just slightly.
2. Malauzai Software powers more than 90 credit unions and banks alone (post).
3. See our latest report on Mobile Security (March 2014, subscription) for more info.
4. Cardflight will be showing off its latest tools at our first developer event, FinDEVr, 30 Sep 2014, in San Francisco. 


Holiday Website Promos at the Top-20 Banks

By Jim Bruene on December 24, 2012 11:43 AM | Comments

In my annual look at holiday offerings from major banks, I found that Scrooge still roams the halls at many of the big names. Only eight of the 20 largest U.S. banks are using holiday-themed promotions or graphics (note 1). That's one more than last year, but still two less than 2010.

As usual, PNC Bank is the exception with their two-decade long holiday CPI (Christmas present index). BB&T, Comerica and Fifth Third are also festive this year with gift card promotions supported by seasonal graphics. And US Bank, Citi, Key and Regions Bank used some holiday imagery.   

The scrooge list: top-20 banks with no holiday promotions or graphics on Dec. 20): 
Bank of America, Bank of the West (BNP Paribas), Capital One, Chase, Citizens (RBS), Harris Bank (BMO), HSBC, ING Direct (Capital One), SunTrust, TD Bank, Union Bank (Mitsubishi UFJ), Wells Fargo

Following is a quick overview of the promotions, including a 1-to 5-bulb rating.

Previous year-end holiday posts: 2011 (big banks), 2011 (CUs/community banks), 2009 part 1, 2009 part 2, 2007, 2006, 2006, 2004


Big banks in the holiday spirit
(rated 1 to 5 bulbs; screenshots from Thursday, Dec 20)

PNC Bank

  • Gift Hunt tied to its Christmas CPI (based on the song 12 Days of Christmas)
  • Visa Gift Card promo (in rotation of four homepage promotions)

Score: imageimageimageimageimage

Hompage: PNC is leading with its 12 days of Christmas price index


PNC Bank microsite with gift hunt link


Also running gift card promo in rotation


BB&T (20 Dec 2012)

  • Holiday themed graphic featuring mobile check deposit
  • Small ad for gift cards




Fifth Third

  • Rotation of three holiday themed promotions
    -- Holiday billpay sweeps
    -- New Years savings promo
    -- Gift cards





  • Prominent gift card promo across page and in lower-left corner




Key Bank

  • Holiday graphic, but no product promotion





  • Toy shopping background image




US Bank

  • Pitch for online banking, convenient while shopping



Regions Bank

  • Small saving money tips




1. Observations taken between 2pm and 3pm Pacific on Thurs Dec 20 from Seattle IP address, Chrome browser with no cookies
2. Animation from


Citibank Helps Users Better Understand Prior Payment Activity When Paying Credit Card Bill Online

By Jim Bruene on May 16, 2012 4:19 PM | Comments

image As I was paying my Citibank business credit card bill last night, apparently one day late (oops again), I noticed three new data fields to the payment summary box (note 1):

  • Dollar amount of payments in process as of today from any channel(note 2)
  • Number of payments made online this statement period
  • Dollar amount of payments made online this statement period

Consumers often forget whether they've paid the bill or not, so it's important to provide help so they needn't click around the site, or worse, call customer service.

While I love the functionality, the bank could have been a bit clearer in language used. For example, I don't think real people call their credit card payment a "payment request." While that term satisfies the legal folk, who I'm sure argued that it's only a "request" until the money actually arrives, it's not consumer-friendly language and the bank does not provide an explanation.

Lastly, there's an unfortunate lag in the updating of the "payment in progress" field. Immediately after paying my $30.80 statement balance, it shows up in the "online payment requests" field, but not in the "payment in progress" (see first screenshot). A day later, everything was in sync (second screenshot).

Despite these drawbacks, it's a good improvement in transparency, and every issuer should offer similar info.


Citibank online credit card system (16 May 2012)
Note: This screenshot was taken after I'd paid the statement balance, so the "requests" fields shows 1 payment for $30.80. Unfortunately, "The Total Payments in Progress" did not reflect that yet, a confusing misalignment of posting times. 

Citibank online payment info box

Payment info box a day later (17 May 2012)
Note: Now the dollar amount in both fields match up.

Closeup of Citibank online credit card payment box


1. To be honest, I'm not sure how long this data has been available. It's possible the bank has been showing it for a long time and I just hadn't noticed. Perhaps someone from Citi will comment and I'll update the post.
2. The exact explanation of this field from the Citi help popup:

This is the total amount of payments that you have recently submitted that have not yet posted to your account. This amount includes payments made through: Online Bill Pay, AutoPay or Pay by Phone. Please Note: Any payment made on a weekend or holiday will be applied as of the day you make it. However, it will not be posted until the next business day. Any payment scheduled to be applied for a future date is not included.

Categories: Bill payment, Citibank

Design: Citibank Remodels Main Consumer Homepage

By Jim Bruene on October 3, 2011 6:12 PM | Comments (1)

image The folks in charge of Citibank's website are sure brave. I'm not sure I've ever seen this dramatic of a change overnight in a major banking website (see before and after screenshots below). The bank rolled out the new site Sunday night and it seems to be running smoothly today.

My first impression is positive. Banking websites tend to be too cluttered. So they either overwhelm prospective customers or cause existing customers to tune the whole thing out. This seems like a step in the right direction, but only the company's web analytics team knows for sure. I'm sure it's been an interesting Monday for everyone involved.

The bank moved the majority of the previous homepage links (see last screenshot) into drop-down "mega menus" that are only displayed when clicking on one of the seven primary navigation items at the top of the page (see second screenshot). The drop-downs only appear after an actual click, so the don't cover up the page when you accidently hover over them with the mouse. homepage in iphone While the new site is clearly less busy overall, the bank has actually added two new items on the main (top) navigation bar:

  • Rewards & Offers: Highlights the bank's ThankYou rewards program, AAdvantage co-branded card, and other programs. Given the bank's emphasis on rewards, this is a good addition.
  • Services: This is a catchall leading to sections on online banking, mobile banking, and unusual features such as PopMoney p2p payments. Most items are repeated in the main Banking navigation item. While it seems redundant from a navigation perspective, perhaps it's a marketing tool for prospects looking for "banking services."

The new site renders nicely on an iPhone, displaying the login box, then navigation items in a vertical format (see inset). I'm not sure if this is a change from the previous site. Note the banner ad at the top promoting the bank's @AskCiti Twitter site.

There are also numerous changes in the online banking area, notably the addition of PFM features powered by Yodlee's FinApp development platform. I'll look at those in a future post.


1. New: 3 Oct 2011
Note: The main graphic, a young woman feigning delight over a bag of gift cards from Citi, is the same in both the before and after shots. But the new version is a mirror image of the old. 

New homepage 3 Oct 2011

2. New design with Banking "mega menu" displayed over graphic

Net Citibank homepage with Banking menu displayed

3. Previous: 30 Sep 2011 (from Google cache
Note: The yellow highlights are on Google's cached copy only, they would not have appeared on the actual Citi website.

Previous as of 30 Sep 2011

Comments (1)

Capital One Pays to Play in Zynga's Virtual Worlds

By Jim Bruene on September 28, 2011 8:11 PM | Comments

imageLike most, I've been amazed at how fast Zynga was able to build a 250+ million user base for its social games. But I'd never actually played one.

Until now. So make that 250 million and one users, because I couldn't resist checking up on Capital One's new product placement in three Zynga games (more on what players could do). The bank's Facebook page, which has grown to 2.3 million likes, has details on the promotions (screenshot 1).

image Although, it appears I may have missed my chance to interact with the CapOne goat, Visigoth statute or a virtual branch (the promo only ran one week), there are still credit card ads and mystery gifts available, at least in Farmville, the only game I tested.

Capital One viral gift & banner ads
Capital One may have ended the in-game elements for now, but they still have a presence in the game. Starting Farmville for the first time, I was greeted by a number of social elements, one of which is sending a Capital One gift (screenshot 2). There is no indication of what the gift actually is. Maybe that's part of the fun, but it seems like a weakness to me. Am I sending someone a virtual goat or a solicitation for a CapOne card (mystery solved)? 

The company is also running banner ads within the game (screenshots 5 & 6). Clicking on them takes users to the usual Capital One pre-approval page within a separate browser window (screenshot 7). Once you land on the CapOne site there is no mention of Farmville.

Discover Card & Citibank bonus offers
Game players are encouraged to buy all kinds of virtual goods. They can earn virtual currency in a number of ways, including using real world cash to buy credits. But users can also earn currency by participating in sponsored activities.

Both Citi and Discover are offering users virtual cash to apply, and be approved, for a credit card. Discover is offering virtual currency worth about $75 and Citi is handing out about $50.

My take: With 250 million users, the large brands owe it to their shareholders to see if they can make hay in Farmville and any other popular virtual world. And I suspect there will be a positive ROI for the right mix of promotion/offer. I have no idea what the magic formula is, but you know the direct marketing wizards at CapOne, Citi and the others will figure it out sooner rather than later (note 1).


1. Capital One Facebook page (27 Sep 2011)

1. Capital One Facebook page

2. Capital One "free gift" in Farmville (27 Sep 2011)

Capital One "free gift" in Farmville (27 Sep 2011)

3. Choose friends you want to receive the gift

2. Choose friends you want to send the gift to

4. Before you send the gift, you have the opportunity to see what the notice looks like to the recipient, and you can add a personal note

3. Before you send the gift, you have the opportunity to see what the notice looks like to the recipient, and you can add a personal note

5. When I got back to the game, there was a large Capital One banner
Note: Starbucks promotion in lower right

4. When I got back to the game, there was a large Capital One banner

6. Another Capital One banner ad served while playing Farmville
Note: Bank of Internet ad on right

5. Another Capital One banner ad served while playing Farmville

7. The banner ad in Farmville, led to Capital One's usual pre-qualification form

6. The banner ad in Farmville, led to Capital One's usual pre-qualification form

8. Discover Card and Citibank have powerful offers in the "earn cash" area.
Note: Discover offers 475 Farm Cash (worth about $75) for card approval, Citibank 300 (about $50). 


9. The first screen after choosing Discover's offer

7. Discover Card and Citibank have more powerful offers, though it's buried in the "earn cash" area. Discover offers 475 Farm Cash (worth about $75) for card approval, Citibank 300 (about $50).

10. Clicking Continue above leads to standard Discover Card app (in new browser window)

8. Clicking Continue above leads to standard Discover Card app (in new browser window)


Note: If you are interested in a fictional look at where the commercialization of Internet gaming is headed, I highly recommend Cory Doctorow's For the Win.


Citibank Running Front-page WSJ Facebook Campaign

By Jim Bruene on August 16, 2011 9:45 PM | Comments

imageCitibank is using some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, the front page of the Wall Street Journal, to promote its Facebook page (see inset and below). The bottom-of-the-page banner invites readers to Like Citibank on Facebook to "find amazing ways to use your (ThankYou) points," and directs them to Citi's main Facebook page,

Visitors are shown a special page promising exclusive access to an upcoming Beyonce concert for Citibank ThankYou customers (see first screenshot). After, clicking the Like button, a new screen appears with a "coming soon" message (second screenshot).

As of 11:30 Eastern this morning, Citi had 34,500 likes, by midnight the total had grown by about 2,000 to 36,500. I don't know where they started the day, but according Visible Banking, the Citi Facebook page debuted in mid-November 2010 with 7,000 likes, mostly from employees. 

Bottom line: I like the idea of creating exclusive benefits for Facebook fans. And perhaps Citi's goal is to make this into a "teaser" campaign. But overall, I was disappointed not to receive any immediate info to reward me for taking the time to visit/like the bank's Facebook site.


Citibank banner ad, bottom of first page of WSJ (Western edition, 16 Aug. 2011)

Citibank banner ad on bottom of first page of WSJ  

Citibank's Facebook page, before "Liking" (16 Aug. 2011, 8:30 AM Pacific)
Note: This is the landing page displayed when using the primarily URL,

Citibank's Facebook page, before "Liking" (16 Aug 2011, 8:30 Pacific 

Citibank's Facebook page, after "Liking" (16 Aug. 2011, 9:15 PM Pacific)



Op Ed: Thoughts on Google Wallet

By Jim Bruene on June 10, 2011 12:30 PM | Comments

This guest post was written by Daniel Thomas, a 25-year strategy and product development veteran of the financial services industry. He is a principal consultant with Mindful Insights LLC.

image Google's announcement two weeks ago certainly raised a few eyebrows in the mobile payments arena and took a giant leap toward putting to rest the debate about the use of NFC.

However, there's an interesting twist that hasn't been explored in the many articles written in the aftermath of the announcement. How will Google's effort impact revenues from the merchant-funded rewards programs (see note 1) banks hope will increase loyalty while softening the blow of the now-certain Durbin Amendment losses?

Citibank inside google wallet

But has Google just killed banks' dreams of grabbing a share of the online advertising pie ?

Merchants today are offering higher discounts and rebates to bankcard users because the banks, via various rewards vendors, are letting merchants in on their customers' spending history.  That data obviously has a lot of value and the merchants compensate the banks for it in the form of commissions on purchases made by the bank's customers after targeted offers have been presented.  On the surface, one might think that regardless of the mobile wallet used, Google's or otherwise, so long as the payment is made from a bank-issued product, the bank will still own the spending history data and be able to trade it for a commission.

However, Google, or whoever owns the mobile wallet (but especially Google), will be able to "see" the purchases as they take place and can begin recording its own spending history data.  That, coupled with other non-mobile spend-history gleaned from browsing on the web across multiple cards per individual or household, potentially gives Google a leg up on the richness of its data (assuming Google can tie the two together, is there any doubt?).  Combine that with general browsing history and Google has a pretty good profile of each person to offer up to merchants. 

Privacy issues aside, this seems to trump bank spending history data placing Google in a much better position to bargain with merchants and ad networks. But privacy issues may well loom large over all of this once consumers and Congress put 2 and 2 together and figure out what Big Broth... er, that is, Google is up to.

Meanwhile, not everyone will have an Android phone nor a Google Wallet. Plenty of other mobile wallets will soon hit the scene, but even so it will take a long time for mobile wallets to replace plastic (amusing thought-- which will go away first: plastic or the perpetual paper check?) so merchants will still want to keep banks in the equation by compensating them for allowing them to use their spending history to develop targeted offers.

So, merchants are going to need to decide: should they allow Google to make the reward offer or the banks?  Surely, they won't compensate both for bringing in the same purchase. That leaves the decision in the hands of the consumers. Do they want to receive points and cash back from Google or from their bank? 

Undoubtedly, consumers will decide based on which one offers the greatest value for the least amount of work. Online usability has been a trademark of Google, banks not so much.


Citibank and MasterCard are key banking partners
On its website, Google asks prospective visitors if they have a Citibank MasterCard

Citibank and MasterCard are key banking partner


Note: For more information, see Online Banking Report: Merchant-Funded Rewards (published  Feb. 2011)


Extreme PFM: Bundle Launches Restaurant Recommender and Move-O-Matic

By Jim Bruene on December 16, 2010 8:02 PM | Comments (2)

image Once upon a time, personal financial management (PFM) software was used only by those with complicated finances (usually with lots of business expenses to keep track of) or those who made a hobby out of tracking their money.

This was enough to support Intuit's Quicken, but every other software solution either lost money, remained small, or folded.

Then along came Web 2.0, and it looked like that might change. Dozens of online PFM providers launched, gained some early traction, then hit a wall, requiring them to fold (Wesabe, Rudder), re-focus on white labeling (Geezeo, Strands), or stay small. Only (now owned by Intuit) was able to make it as a major PFM destination riding a wave of publicity generated by being a tech darling.

So where does that leave us now? There are several obvious opportunities for personal finance companies:

  • Small businesses willing to pay for tools that save time and/or help them run their business better (, Kashoo, Xero and many others)
  • Tools that satisfy specific needs with almost immediate time savings (Expensify for expense reports)
  • Tools that watch over your accounts to make sure you are not defrauded, cheated, or billed in error (in development at a number of companies)

And then there's the avenue that Bundle is working on:

  • Using the aggregated data to provide spending insights for everyone

Bundle's new tools
This week, Finovate Fall Best of Show winner (video), Bundle, released two new tools under the tab, Everybody's Money (as opposed to the other option, My Money)

  • Restaurant Recommender (see below)
  • Move-O-Matic: Clever name and revamped interface for a feature Bundle has been delivering since it launched a year ago (previous post) that provides spending comparisons between various cities (see note 1)
  • Restaurant Recommender is brilliant and could be a useful tool for anyone who eats out often (a much, much bigger audience than those that track their spending closely). It only works for NYC and LA right now, but more cities are in the plans.

Here's how it works:

  • Type in a restaurant name (I chose Balthazar, a place my parents treated me to on a recent birthday; see first screenshot)
  • Click the green Find Restaurants button
  • Bundle returns a list of other restaurants that Balthazar customers frequent, complete with a "loyalty score" that quantifies how much customers spend at each restaurant along with a confidence measure on the recommendation (second screenshot)

And because the startup uses actual spending data from 20 million cards in its algorithm, the recommendations are based on real data, not the sometimes biased results of online review and popularity sites. As Bundle puts it, users "vote with their dollars."

If Bundle and Yelp make APIs available, it would be great to see a mashup of Yelp reviews augmented with Bundle spending data. And it's yet to be seen if they can convert casual drive-by data traffic into hardcore PFM users. But for now, Bundle is a great discovery tool, if you live in NYC or LA.

Bundle Restaurant Recommender (16 Dec. 2010)

Bundle Restaurant Recommender (16 Dec 2010)

Results for NYC search on "Balthazar"
Note: Bundle increased the transparency of the recommendation by disclosing how many transactions were used to derive the correlation. In the case of the Balthazar Bakery, the choice was based on more than 87,000 transactions. Bundle also provide a measure of how confident they are in the recommendation (the blue bar). 

Bundle Results for NYC search on "Balthazar"

Bundle move-o-matic compares Seattle to NYCNotes:
1. Regarding Move-O-Matic. Here's my original footnote followed by the correction (in italics):
Unfortunately, when you drill into the data, the results sometimes seem strange. Does anyone really think the highest income folks ($125k+) in NYC really spend $230 less per month than those in Seattle excluding housing costs (see inset)? Granted, we spend a lot more on coffee; still, not sure I buy this result.
(Update 17 Dec. 2010: Looks like this was user error in part aided by the tool's autofill which suggested NYC, which includes all 5 boroughs, when I typed N. If I'd have input "Manhattan" instead of NYC the results would be much different. The tool says I spend $1,500 more per month in Manhattan, that sounds much more realistic. My apologies.)
2. Bundle is backed by Citibank, Microsoft, and Morningstar
3. See Xero at FinovateEurope, Feb. 1.
4. For more on online personal financial management (OFM), see our recent Online Banking Report.

Comments (2)

Citibank Adds Text Banking to its Mobile Lineup

By Jim Bruene on June 22, 2010 5:44 PM | Comments

image With today's launch from Citibank (press release), the big four U.S. banks now all support text banking (Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo) (see note 1).

With these four giants on board, text banking turns into table stakes going forward, i.e., a must-have feature. Those without it have a tangible deficiency that will cost them customers, especially in the heavy-texting youth market.

The Citibank service is read-only offering Bal, Stmt, and Hist commands sent to its shortcode MyCiti (692484) (see second screenshot for command list). It also includes the all-important Stop function to turn off all text messages and alerts. Chase Bank recently became the first major U.S. bank to offer text-based funds transfers.

Citibank isn't making a big deal of the new option on its website. The text option is now positioned on the mobile page with equal billing with the bank's iPhone and (other) smartphone options (see first screenshot below).

Citibank mobile landing page (link, 22 June 2010)

Citibank mobile landing page

Text banking page (link)

Citibank text banking page

1. Update June 23: While BofA and Citi added text banking this year, Wells and Chase have offered it since 2007.
2. For more on mobile banking and payments, see the most recent issue from Online Banking Report.


Citibank Launches a Blog at

By Jim Bruene on March 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Comments (4)

image One of the things I enjoy about using Gmail are the one-line ads displayed across the top of the screen. It's fascinating to see how Google's algorithm attempts to figure out what's on the top of my mind by reading my recent emails (goodbye privacy).

Last week, it correctly deduced that I'd be interested in a new initiative by Citibank; unfortunately, I didn't capture the exact ad, but it pointed me to the URL <>, which itself was enough to get a click out of me.

To my surprise, is an online microsite aimed at sharing the things Citi is doing to bring itself back from the brink. And it's being told in blog format. It started in February with seven posts on Feb. 1. There was no activity for two weeks, but since then the bank has posted 15 new entries, about 2.5 per week, a good pace.

The content is good. For example, yesterday they wrote about their no-overdraft philosophy on debit cards, a policy they've always adhered to. The bank even linked to Ron Lieber's NY Times, Your Money column, "Overdraft Protection. Why Bother?", just like a real blog.

The design is attractive and consistent with Citi's brand identity (see screenshot below). But it's a little over-indulgent for a blog. Above the fold, all you see are Citi executive testimonials and an undated post from CEO Vikram Pandit permanently anchored there. I recommend activating the upper-right mute button to obviate the annoying little jingle that plays each time you click a new page. 

The bank allows comments, moderated of course. Most posts have just one or two, but the anchor post has 60.

It's good to see another major bank blogging, especially after Bank of America killed its innovations blog (note 1). And it's a solid effort, good for the bank and its brand. A little restraint in the design department and this would earn an A grade. 

Citi's corporate blog site (19 March 2010)
Note: You can get rid of the faces by clicking on minimize, and mute the jingle with the speaker sign, but few users are going to see those, or know what they mean.


Note: For an even better example, check out Truliant Federal Credit Union's superb new blog. The CU has an internal team that's been doing five relevant posts per week since Jan 27. 

Comments (4)

Great Recoveries: Major Banks Respond to Negative Blog Items Immediately

By Jim Bruene on February 23, 2010 6:25 PM | Comments (3)

image Twice in the past few weeks, I've written blog posts that had one or more criticisms about specific experiences with a bank's product. My complaints weren't Huff Post calls to arms or anything particularly serious, just small things that had gone wrong (previous posts here and here). And our blog, while well-read in the banking industry, is just a rounding error in terms of mainstream readership.  

But in both these examples, the bank reached out to me almost immediately, offering to help solve the problem. In one case, I received a phone call (several actually) from the bank's PR department and the other bank left a message on our home phone (note 1) from the "executive office." 

My take: I am shocked to have heard not once, but twice in the same month from mega-banks looking to solve small, albeit public, customer-service issues. In 15 years of covering the industry, including three with a public blog, I have never had a single "official" call from a bank about a problem I've written about (note 2).

Businesses have long debated how to handle negative conversations in social media (see note 3). Do you stay on the sidelines, anonymously participate in the conversation, or reach out with offers to help?

Clearly, offering to help is the way to go. However, you must choose your words carefully because everything you say can and will be used against you by a blogger bent on revenge or ridicule.

But I can tell you now from experience that it's powerful to be contacted by the business you've written about. My reaction goes something like this:

  • "Uh oh, now I've offended a reader; I'd better think twice about posting negative comments again." At the very least, I'll certainly make sure my coverage is extremely balanced in the future. No potshots, that's for sure.
  • "Wow, this bank really cares about its customers and reputation." That makes me feel much better about them.
  • "Seriously, a big bank that calls its customers when it hears about a problem; impressive as hell!"

So going forward:

  • I'm more likely to look for something good to say about the bank to make up for the negative item. 
  • I may post an update to the original entry, or even an entire post like this, complimenting the bank on reaching out to resolve the problem.
  • I'll probably tell my friends the story, either privately, or more publicly via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

These are pretty good results from a relatively low-cost phone call. Sure, my problems were fairly simple and easily resolved, and it may be harder to appease a blogger whose home was recently foreclosed. But why not try? As long as you stay calm and try to keep things constructive, there's very little downside and a lot of upside.

So congratulations Citibank and Capital One, your performance has been truly remarkable. (Are we good now?) 

1. The bank must have looked at our actual account info to get the home phone number.
2. I have received the occasional email from a subscriber, but no proactive effort to provide help.
3. For a wonderful overview of the ins and outs of responding to bloggers, read the two-part post (here and here) from Vancity's MVP and third-ranked innovator on the planet, William Azaroff. 

Comments (3)

Out of the Inbox: Citibank Offers to Help Users Restart their Online Banking

By Jim Bruene on February 3, 2010 4:15 PM | Comments (5)

imageMy Citibank checking account dates back to when iPods were novel and 1GB was enough to satisfy your iTunes cravings (see Jan. 2005 post). For several years, Citibank gave iPods away to anyone who'd open up a checking account online and do a few bill payments. 

I haven't accessed my Citi checking account in at least a year, because last time I tried, I locked myself out with too many password attempts (note 1). And I've been too lazy to go through the often tedious reset process (see below).

So I was pleased to receive an email this morning offering to help me get restarted (see screenshot below). I figured the bank had noted my previously futile attempts to login and was sending along a bit of digital assistance. Sure, it was a year or two after the fact, but I believe in better late than never.

But the main call to action in the activation email is:

Enter the User ID and Password you created when you opened your account online.

So evidently, the bank thinks I'm smarter than I really am and actually can remember the username/password from my two-years dormant account.

Had I not been blogging about the email, I would have deleted it. But as I re-read it more closely, I did see the small light-gray link in the corner for resetting my password. Unfortunately, Citi requires your ATM card and PIN to reset passwords (see second screenshot). This is precisely why I wasn't able to reset the thing when I was locked out two years ago.

My take:
1. An activation to stalled online banking customers is a great idea. But in this case, Citibank did not deliver on its promise to "help" me restart online banking (note 2). As a matter of fact, I am now even more frustrated. If you are going to send a message offering help, make sure there is actual help available for the various ways customers will respond.
2. For infrequent users, consider simpler password-reset procedures based on email address or mobile phone number on file plus Social Security Number and/or shared secrets. 
3. Finally, don't offer a dead-end password reset page. In Citibank's case, if the user doesn't have both their ATM card number and PIN, there is no place to turn. There's not even a phone number listed on the page to seek live help (you have to use Contact Us in the upper right).

Citibank email (sent 3 Feb. 2010, 9:30 AM Pacific)


Citibank password-reset page


1. I have two Citi accounts with different usernames and passwords, so it always makes for an interesting memory test at login.
2. I should add that I have enough money in the non-interest account to provide Citi with a bit of profit every year. 

Comments (5)

Citibank, Microsoft Join Forces with Bundle, a Personal Finance Site with a Data Bent

By Jim Bruene on January 29, 2010 5:21 PM | Comments (1)

image I had been intrigued about rumors that Microsoft and Citibank were partnering on a joint personal-finance venture called Bundle. I was hoping for the financial services version of an Apple launch.

OK, that's a little too high of a bar to set. I was really just hoping for the next Mint or at least something we hadn't seen before. To some extent, Bundle delivered, with Mint-like attention to design and deeper data than we've seen previously. But in other ways it's just a me-too personal finance site, FiLife 2.0. Bottom line, Bundle has been open only a week so it's way too early to predict where it's going or how it makes money. 

imageBundle is a personal finance startup backed by Citibank, Microsoft, and Morningstar. Two of the key execs, including CEO Jaidev Shergill, are from Citi Growth Ventures, the group charged with commercializing products and ideas that have bubbled up within the banking giant. The startup also enlisted professional journalists, including Janet Paskin who's written for Dow Jones's SmartMoney Magazine among others.

Given that pedigree, the new site is kind of a SmartMoney Magazine meets your credit card statement with some social networking thrown in the mix.  

What distinguishes it from most personal finance content providers is that Bundle showcases proprietary data, sourced from Citibank's massive card-spending warehouse. The site gives center stage to data and shows household spending personalized to your specific location.

There's also professional personal finance advice mixed with stories and comment from the community. Even the articles use the database to illustrate points (screenshot 3). 

image Naturally, it's well-integrated to Facebook. You cannot even comment unless you log in via Facebook Connect. You can follow Bundle on Twitter, of course, but surprisingly there is no blog or RSS feed.

And Bundle already has its own iPhone app called Vice Tracker (iTunes link) that makes shopping for non-essentials into a tongue-in-cheek game. The unique app was added to the store two weeks ago in the Lifestyle category. 

According to the FAQs, Bundle's business model is advertising, but there are no ads on the site yet, other than the logos of the backers (Microsoft is using its MSN Money brand). Presumably, they are looking for financial advertisers, but the Citibank connection might make that a harder sell.

I like what Bundle is doing, creating a consumer-facing company around Citibank's cardholder data. But I can't figure out who they are targeting. Maybe they haven't decided yet.

If they want to attract data junkies like myself, the data needs to be more transparent and they need more robust tools to play with it. I enjoyed being able to compare the spending of my Seattle neighbors against that of my home town in Iowa (it's surprisingly similar). But I was left with a number of questions: 

  • Where does the spending data come from? The FAQs are vague on saying that it comes from Citibank card data, government sources and "other third parties." 
  • If it's primarily Citibank card data, is it really representative of the entire town or just the people that hold Citibank cards? For example, Bundle tells me (screenshot #3)  that the average dining out expense in Seattle is $115 and the most common spot is Starbucks followed by McDonalds. Something seems wrong with that.  
  • And furthermore, are these estimates of all spending or just that on Citibank cards? And which Citi portfolios are included? What about business cards?
  • The graphical bubbles are nice, but I like to view data in tables, especially when trying to drill down and do meaningful analysis. Is there some way to see the underlying numbers?

On the other hand, if Bundle is trying to attract readers looking for personal finance advice and discussion, the data is kind of in the way, more window dressing than anything else.

Final thoughts
The graphics are great and the spending data is interesting. But why would I come back? There's only so many times in one's life that you want to compare the shopping habits of your city vs. somewhere else.

Presumably, future versions will allow you to compare your actual spending to the Bundle averages using account-aggregation technology. This is a popular feature of Wesabe, and is one of the major tenets of what we've called "social personal finance" (note 1, 2).

I also expect they'll integrate Bundle into the Citibank cardholder site so its customers can do online comparisons while they are checking their statement online.  If Citi can document a spending lift from bundled Bundle, then the startup has proven its value. Armed with that success, it could be licensed to other big card issuers, increasing the value of the Bundle data for all users, attracting more users and more advertisers. The network effect. Perhaps that's the end game here. 

#1: Main Bundle page after selecting "Seattle" as location to show spending (29 Jan. 2010)


#2: Main page after drilling down through the "Food & Drink" bubble (link)
Note: Top five restaurants for dining out in Seattle are Starbucks, McDonalds, Subway, Red Robin and Cheesecake Factory. That sounds possible, but then the average purchase size is listed at $115. That's a lot of lattes or Big Macs.


#3: The ever-present "spending balls" hover above an article by Bundle Managing Editor Janet Paskin's short post. The balls compare the spending in Brooklyn with her hometown Seattle 
Note: Brooklyn comes out cheaper, see the solid circles (Brooklyn) in front of the cross-hatched ones (Seattle).


1. See our previous reports on Social Personal Finance (2007) and Online Investment Communities (2008).
2. Wesabe would seem to be a great acquisition if Bundle wants to add the aggregation technology piece and jump-start its user base.  Blippy-like features would also make the site more sticky.
3. For more background on the software tools being used, see the article on Bundle in Microsoft's Financial Services publication published 22 Nov. 2009.

Comments (1)

Citibank Ends its Three-Year Test with Obopay

By Jim Bruene on December 6, 2009 7:21 PM | Comments (1)

imageIt appears that the Obopay/Citibank co-branded service is being shut down. From the sparse note on the webpage <> (see screenshot below), it doesn't sound like a temporary hiatus: 

As of Dec. 22, 2009, "Citi Obopay" will no longer be available.
If you would like to use the Obopay service go to
The service available at has no affiliation with Citibank.

The companies have been working together on Obopay-powered mobile payment for more than three years.

Citi Mobile SVP Marylou Dowd said on Thursday in American Banker that the Obopay tests were concluded this summer. Not coincidently, Citi's mobile joint venture MMV announced last week that it was partnering with CPNI Inc. of Toronto to build a mobile P2P payments service.

Obopay's website still shows Citi Obopay on its Financial Institutions page (see inset above). But Citigroup, which invested at least twice in Obopay in the July 2007 C-round and April 2008 D-round, is not listed on Obopay's investors page.

The site was never publicized by Citibank. Traffic peaked at 7,000 unique visitors in Feb. before falling so low that Compete could not measure it after April 2009:


Source: Compete, 3 Dec 2009, link

For future reference, we've archived the website screenshots below.

Citi Obopay homepage (3 Dec 2009, 4 PM Pacific)
Note: The <> URL now redirects to the Obopay homepage.


How Citi Obopay Works page <>


Get Citi Obopay page <>


Citi Obopay Fees page <>


Note: For more info on mobile banking, see our Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone (March 2009) as well as our earlier reports on Mobile Banking (Feb. 2007) and Mobile Payments (April 2007).

Comments (1)

Mobile Awareness: Let Your Customers Know They Can Bank Online via Smartphone Now

By Jim Bruene on September 10, 2009 1:31 PM | Comments (1)

image Yesterday, Apple announced it has shipped 50 million iPhone/iPod Touches in the past two years. And they are not even the smartphone leader. You can bet that many (most?) new smartphone-owning-online-banking-using customers haven't a clue how to connect to their financial institution through their mobile. And even if they know how, there's still that nagging doubt as to whether it's a safe/smart thing to do.

Therefore, if you want to drive significant mobile usage, there are a number of steps to take (see note 1). But one of the most important is user education, especially through online information, screenshots, and demos. 

Citibank recently elevated general smartphone awareness to its homepage (see first screenshot below). Yesterday, the bank was rotating an "Introducing CitiMobile for Smartphone" banner across the top of the homepage. The banner led to an educational page (see second screenshot, note 2), that led to clear instructions on how to bank via a mobile browser:

  • Open browser
  • Go to (note 3)
  • Log in using your same online banking credentials

While brevity is admirable, I think customers need a little more info than that. For a non-user, the process sounds almost too good to be true. The bank should elaborate on some key questions such as:

  • Is it secure? (see update below)
  • What does it cost?
  • Does it work on my phone?
  • What if I lose my phone?

Luckily, interested users can go to the well-designed demo that takes users through a semi-guided tour of the mobile banking functions. The Flash-based demo is partially interactive, allowing users to click buttons on a smartphone emulator (see third screenshot). After clicking on a new function, the demo takes over, completing the data entry and going forward to the next screen. Check it out here

Update (22 Sep 2009): An email from a Citi Mobile employee pointed out that I missed the security and other info in the right-hand column of the landing page below. I apologize for the omission. 

Citibank homepage (9 Sep 09)


Citi Mobile for Smartphones landing page (link)


Citibank mobile demo with interactive emulator


1. For more info, see Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking (Feb 2007) and Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone (Mar 2009)
2. The bank has separate pages for: Citi Mobile for iPhone and Citi Mobile for Other Models
3. Citi still has some work to do on optimizing the mobile Web experience (see update below). I navigated via my iPhone to its homepage (see inset) which looks terrible: The page is rendered impossibly tiny (requiring finger zooming), and because the two Flash-based animations don't work on iPhones, the top of the page is dominated by two empty boxes.

Update (22 Sep 2009): The site is now rendering perfectly on my iPhone. I see a mobile-optimized site similar to the Citi iPhone app. I'm not sure what was going on Sep 10 when I took this screenshot. It's possible I got the wrong page by navigating to Citi through the Google app. 

Comments (1)

Citibank Launches Dedicated iPhone Application

By Jim Bruene on March 2, 2009 2:52 PM | Comments

image Earlier today, Citibank launched a dedicated iPhone app (iTunes link) powered by mFoundry. Previously, certain Citi cardholders could use the Firethorn iPhone app, but there was no App Store listing under the Citi brand.

The app, which is free to download, is currently number 10 in the App Store Finance (free) category. It will likely rise to the top, at least briefly, as Citi customers download the app.

The app is featured on the Citi homepage today (see first screenshot below) and is front and center on the Citi Mobile landing page (second screenshot below). The bank has also posted a nine-screen demo of the app here (see inset).

Anyone that's ever used a mobile website will appreciate the Citi login screen (see inset below). A jumbo-sized numerical keypad is included below the signin area to make typing the PIN easier on the small screen. image

The Citi application does the usual four functions:

  • check balances
  • transfer funds
  • pay bills
  • find Citi branches and ATMs

The bank wisely informs users that their iPhone access can be deactivated immediately in the event of a lost or stolen phone by calling its toll-free number.

With this launch, four of the 10 largest U.S. consumer banks have a dedicated presence in the Apple App Store: Bank of America, Chase, and PNC Bank.

Citibank homepage features the iPhone app (2 March 2009)


Left: Landing page for Citi Mobile (link, 2 March 2009)


The Citibank application page in the iTunes App Store (link, 2 March 2009)


1. See our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking for more information on the market. 


Citibank Credit Cards Coming to the iPhone Nov. 1, Powered by Firethorn

By Jim Bruene on October 27, 2008 6:14 PM | Comments (1)

image Firethorn (owned by Qualcomm) has a new iPhone app called Mobile Banking for AT&T Customers. The app is currently ranked number eight in the finance category of the Apple iTunes App Store (see screenshot below). Of the transactional services, only PayPal and BofA's Mobile Banking are higher.

Firethorn iPhone app (27 Oct 2008) The application can be used to access online banking at any of the ten financial institution holding companies, and their subsidiaries, currently supported by Firethorn:

  • 1st Bank (Colorado)
  • America First Credit Union
  • Arvest
  • BancorpSouth
  • Caroline First
  • Mercantile Bank
  • Suntrust
  • Synovus
  • USAA
  • Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo)

The Firethorn application has 27 reviews so far and has scored a 4-star average (out of 5), much better than the typical finance app (see previous coverage here). The main complaint is lack of coverage for the user's bank, which is not the fault of the app.  In comparison, Bank of America's app garnered 434 reviews and a 2.5-star rating.

I downloaded the application today and, unfortunately, I don't have an account at any of the financial institutions; however, that will change next week if they hit the dates contained in the Featured Providers page.

Here are coming-soon financial institutions:

  • Citi Cards (Citibank) "coming Nov. 1" (previous press release here)
  • Chase Bank "coming soon"
  • Regions Bank "beginning this fall"

Firethorn Mobile Banking on AT&T in Apple iTunes App Store (27 Oct 2008)

Comments (1)

Citibank Smith Barney Testing MyFi, Financial Advice and Account Aggregation for the Mass Market

By Jim Bruene on August 9, 2008 12:26 PM | Comments (1)

image Apparently, Citibank has been testing a new investment advisory service this summer, myFi, targeting certain Citibank credit card customers. Its first online mention appeared in a frequent-flyer forum, FlyerTalk, May 31 (here) and in the personal finance forum, FatWallet, June 13 (here). The bank has been testing mileage premiums for opening a myFi account and/or increasing spending on a Citi card.

The service consists of a Web-based investment area which will include trading and account-aggregation services later this year (see note 1), combined with telephone and in-person help from non-commissioned Citi Smith Barney advisors. The NY Times's Your Money columnist Ron Lieber tested the human portion of the offering in a Long Island branch and reported on it in his column today.

myFi's director of financial advice is Jonathon Clements, a long-time Wall Street Journal personal finance writer who recently left the paper. If he can instill his pragmatic personal finance outlook to Citi's offering, it would help differentiate it from similar offerings. Andy Sieg is managing director of the service.

The initial creative approach is to use a "financial wellness" theme. Today, the website is bare bones (screenshot below), with a few PDF files available for download. It's clearly a work in progress. The bank should slap a "beta" tag in the upper-right corner so that it's not unfairly judged as a complete offering.

Citibank's myfi home page (9 Aug 2008)

1. For more information, see our Online Banking Report on Account Aggregation.

2. According to Compete, had 2,400 unique visitors in July, the first month with any significant traffic.
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Citibank and WaMu Rated Tops in Deposit Account Sales Process in Change Sciences Study

By Jim Bruene on May 16, 2008 11:13 AM | Comments

image Change Sciences, publishing under the moniker of its new Kantuit research service, just released its latest financial services website evaluation. The report uses proprietary user-experience modeling to rate, rank and compare 18 leading banking sites on how easy it is to find, select, and open a new deposit account online (see Table 1, inset).

Citibank and WaMu were ranked one and two and scored significantly better than the others. Wachovia was third, scoring about 20% higher (the lower the score, the better). Bank of America, Fifth Third and BB&T were in the next tier, finishing about 50% higher. Among mega-banks, U.S. Bank had the worst score, more than double the leaders. 

The Change Science score includes various components that show how a consumer may struggle with various aspects of the application process. These individual scores are totaled to come up with the final composite score shown in Table 1 right.

For example, Figure 1 below illustrates the scores for "Effort (expended) finding and learning about deposit accounts" with Fifth Third leading the way with a 0.1 score, compared to Peoples United Bank, the worst of the sample, scoring 19x higher at 1.9

Download an abstract of the research results here (registration required). The full report runs $4,000; a significant investment yes, but you could make that up with just a handful of additional good deposit accounts.  image


Anatomy of a Webpage: Citibank Business Credit Card

By Jim Bruene on September 24, 2007 4:59 PM | Comments

In terms of website design, I find most Citibank pages to be somewhat busy. But overall, the pages usually work well due to the eye-catching graphics, appropriate use of colors, and good copywriting.  

I've had a Citibank Business AAdvantage credit card for at least a decade. Even though I don't visit the site often, maybe once every few months, I find that it's generally easy to find what I'm looking for. 

As you can see in the business card example below, the bank uses purple and green "buttons" to catch your eye, then inserts important key words within them to drive action:

  1. The purple, "Fraud is not your fault" reinforces that customers are not liable for unauthorized transactions, something most people are still concerned about, even though their liability is minimal. The button leads to a page that discusses advanced fraud fighting tools such as virtual account numbers and a picture card.
  2. The navy, "How much have I spent lately?" allows users to quickly drill down into a key area of concern for most card users. Although not as powerful as Wells Fargo's My Spending Report (previous coverage here), it's still a good starting point for many users.
  3. Finally, the bright green, "Help prevent an identity crisis" pitches the bank's credit monitoring solutions (note 1).

Citibank Business Credit Card main account overview page (22 Sep 2007)


1. For more information on bank and credit union opportunities selling credit report monitoring see our most recent Online Banking Report.


Citi Mobile Makes the Homepage

By Jim Bruene on August 7, 2007 3:22 PM | Comments (1)

Link to CitiCitibank continues to press its lead in mobile banking services. The banking giant not only runs print and television ads, but also claims valuable left-side real estate on Citi's homepage (see inset for closeup of section; see screenshot below for context; and see note 1).

Since Citi's homepage is relatively cluttered with banner ads, the New & Noteworthy section supported by a small mobile phone graphic should grab a significant number of clicks. The landing page is the same as reported earlier (see previous coverage here).

Citibank homepage 7 Aug 2007


1. Citibank's homepage as viewed from a Seattle IP address, Aug 7, 3 PM Pacific, from a laptop that has previously visited but that has not accessed a Citi account.

Comments (1)

Citibank Goes Mobile in National Print Advertising

By Jim Bruene on July 23, 2007 9:44 AM | Comments

link to Wired magazine Even though my wife tries to throw them out at least once per year, I still have every issue of Wired Magazine in a stack in my home office. It remains my favorite magazine, although I no longer devour every issue within the first 48 hours.

I still take notice when any financial services company advertises within its pages. There aren't usually many to choose from, mostly brokerages and mutual fund conglomerates. But one retail bank has consistently advertised in Wired: Citibank, who made the Wired 40  list of leading companies in 2005 and 2006, but not 2007 (see previous coverage here).

In the August issue of Wired (pp. 31-32, see inset), Citibank has a gorgeous two-page spread, featuring, drum roll please, MOBILE BANKING (see note 1). For nearly 10 years, the gold standard of online banking image advertising was the attractive 30-something guy/gal relaxing on the beach, supposedly doing their online banking from a chair (note 2).

It looks like the mobile phone is the new laptop, at least in Madison Avenue photo shoots, especially now that the iPhone is the sexiest new technology since the Palm Pilot. So expect to see plenty of advertising — print, Internet and television — showing happy 30-somethings taking care of their banking in a few seconds on their way to the beach/theatre/dinner. Sure, it's mostly fiction in 2007, but mobile will be the "sizzle" in bank advertising for years to come.

Here's the slightly truncated version of the Wired ad (sorry my scanner is only 8.5 x 14):

Citibank mobile ad in Wired Aug 2007 p. 31-32

1. The add also appeared across pp. 3-4 in the July issue of Wired. 

2. I go to the beach every year, and I've never seen anyone with a laptop there. Even if you forget about the possible sand and water damage, there is no way you can see the screen through the glare, without risking permanent damage to your eyes. I have a $2,000+ Thinkpad tablet, and I can barely make out the screen in the shade on my deck.   


Citi Mobile on National Television

By Jim Bruene on June 20, 2007 11:42 AM | Comments

At the Mobile Commerce Summit, we heard Citibank is running national spots featuring its mFoundry-powered mobile banking service, Citi Mobile <>.  (Hat tip Richard Crone).

Back in the old days, like late 2006, we would have had to request a copy of the ad from the bank. But today, everything is on YouTube, so check out the 30-second spot below (screenshot at right). 

While its not as appealing as Apple's iPhone commercials, the Citi spot does a good job demonstrating the utility of mobile banking. It features a close-in shot of a couple driving down the road with the wife making a quick forgotten payment in a few seconds, while still carrying on a conversation with her husband. It is also great branding, furthering Citi's long-term positioning as a technology leader.*

What it Means
National advertising by the big banks, as well as carriers introducing their mobile wallets later this year and next, will create considerable awareness among consumers. Although, usage will be light for the next few years, mobile commerce is NOT a fad. This is one area you should address very carefully in your upcoming budgeting process for 2008.

For more information, see our Mobile Banking Report.


*Citi would look even hipper if it embedded the YouTube ad in its mobile banking landing page.


NY Times Reviews Citi Mobile

By Jim Bruene on May 24, 2007 12:21 AM | Comments (1)

Link to NY Times article The May 24 New York Times contains a generally favorable review of Citibank's new mobile phone service (article here). Writer John R. Quain also touches briefly on Bank of America's WAP service and gives Firethorn's application a spin via BancorpSouth's mobile service.

For followers of the space, there's not much new information here. But a 1,200-word article in the NY Times is significant for the mere fact that the editor's found the subject newsworthy. 

The only downside cited, and it's a HUGE one, is the cost from the carrier. In the author's test, it cost him $2.59 in data charges for what sounded like a single Citi Mobile banking session (he did not have a data plan). Ouch. 

Here's the exact passage near the end of the article:

For example, checking my balances, making a transfer and confirming a few payments totaled 244 kilobytes, plus one text message, on Citi Mobile. Total charges from AT&T: $2.59. 

Update: Drew Sievers, CEO of mFoundry, the vendor powering Citi Mobile, emailed to say that the data charges cited in the NY Times article included the initial download. Subsequent sessions, would cost just pennies each, even without a data plan. He also said that the typical user attracted to mobile banking will already have a data plan, making mobile banking essentially free, at least from the carrier.

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Citi Mobile Launches in Southern California

By Jim Bruene on April 3, 2007 10:17 AM | Comments (1)

The long-awaited launch of True Mobile Banking 2.0 (note 1) in the United States happened yesterday with Citibank beginning a limited rollout of its mFoundry-powered downloadable mobile banking service. The service is currently available to Citibank customers in Southern California with nationwide rollout this summer. However, the bank's website today merely says it's "coming soon" (see screenshot below; link here).

The new service is not mentioned on the main Citibank website, unless you use the site search feature (see note 2).

Citi Mobile main page

The single mobile banking page doesn't tell us much we didn't already know (see previous coverage here), other than a few minor details are revealed for the first time:

  • Mobile PIN number is the same as what's used for regular phone banking; PIN numbers can be created online through a link on the mobile page
  • To enroll, users enter their mobile number, carrier and phone model and a link to the downloadable application is sent via text message

A short four-screen demo (below) shows users how to activate the service once it's been downloaded:


There was lot's of new coverage on launch day, indicating that Citi made the press rounds prior to launch:

  • Steve Bills from American Banker chimes in with a brief piece using consultant Richard Crone as a reality check on Citi's PR material (here)
  • Eileen Alt Powell put this out on the AP Wire
  • Time even picked up the story (here)


1. True Mobile Banking is defined as transactional banking directly from a mobile phone, without the need to access a website (WAP). The 2.0 means it's a second-generation technology, not to be confused with the circa 1999-2002 version 1 that worked on a limited universe of PDAs.

2. Accessed the website from a Seattle IP address via my laptop which does NOT know that I am a Citi customer.

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Citibank Buys the Top Spot for Google "Checking Accounts"

By Jim Bruene on April 2, 2007 10:22 AM | Comments

Citibank has the top spot this morning if you Google "checking accounts" from a Seattle IP address (see below). Wachovia and US Bank are the lucky recipients of the free advertising that goes with being in the top-two organic results. Two smaller institutions purchased well-placed ads with Alaska USA Federal Credit Union landing in the number four spot on the right-side column (#7 overall) and Viking Bank at #5 on the right (#8 overall).

Citibank's landing page emphasizes the rate on its savings account, with a passing mention of EZ Checking (see screenshot below). The landing page is gorgeous, but is it missing the point by soft-pedaling what the searcher was looking for? Only Citi and its analytics team knows for sure. My guess is that it does pretty well since the bank's been using this basic design for more than a year now (see previous coverage here).   

Citibank landing page from Google search on "checking accounts"


Citibank Mobile Getting Closer: FAQs Posted

By Jim Bruene on March 20, 2007 11:48 AM | Comments (1)

Citibank India SMS banking banner 

Citibank recently posted a short FAQ (click here or view screenshot below) on its website that confirms what we had suspected about its upcoming launch of mFoundry-powered Citi Mobile (see previous coverage here and here).

Here's what we now know:

1. The service will be FREE of charge

2. It will be a downloadable app (unlike the SMS-based service in India shown above)

3. It will work on approximately 100 cellphone handsets

4. It will work across multiple wireless carriers

5. It will include bill payments and funds transfer

6. A direct link to customer service is provided

Citi Mobile U.S. FAQsWhat we still don't know:

1. Will is support SMS/text messaging?

2. What login/security process will be used?

3. Will it work with all Citi checking accounts or only certain products?

4. Will it work across all major carriers?

5. Will it require a full data plan at the carriers?

As you can see from the Citibank India graphic at the top of the page, major banks offer mobile access in much of the world. But in the U.S., the Citibank launch is a major milestone as the first downloadable application that can be used on common handsets. For more information, see our latest Online Banking Report, Mobile Banking & Payments 2.0 (OBR 138/139).

Click on the screenshot right, to see the Citibank FAQ on mobile banking. Or go directly to its website here.   

Comments (1)

Citibank's Instant-Win Billpay Sweeps

By Jim Bruene on March 20, 2007 10:39 AM | Comments

Ad on Citibank's Online Banking pageEarlier this year, we wrote about how easy it is to run an online instant prize contest using ePrize (see post here). Today, we see that Citibank is using the company to power an instant-win game and billpay usage sweepstakes. They share the same creative and both run March 1 through April 30, but otherwise have little to do with each other.

The instant-win game can be played by anyone and finishes with an ad for Citi's e-Savings account. The sweepstakes rewards Citi billpay customers with automatic sweepstakes entries tied to billpay usage. Here are the specifics:  

1. Instant win: Anyone who registers with an email address and date of birth may spin the wheel up to three times each day to win won of 300 prizes awarded randomly between March 1 and April 30, 2007. The total prize pool is $15,000 with one-hundred $100 winners and two-hundred $25 prizes. At the end of each play, Citi pitches its e-Savings account with 4.75% APY and $25 signing bonus, which is slightly different than its website promotion of 4.65% and $50 bonus (see screenshots below). 

2. Usage sweepstakes: Citibank billpay customers are also entered into a sweepstakes with a single grand prize of $25,000. Each bill payment of more than $5, after the first four during the 60-day run, receives one automatic entry into the sweeps. 

The promotion is advertised on its main Banking page with a small banner (see screenshot below). A larger promotion (see inset above) appears on the Online Banking page (see note 1).

Screenshots: Citibank signup page, "spin" the wheel to play, loser's page with cross-sell of 4.75% savings account (click to enlarge)

 Citibank's registration page for instant-win billpay game CLICK TO ENLARGE   Citibank's instant-win game CLICK TO ENLARGE  

Citibank e-Savings cross sell after losing the instant-win game 

Citibank main "banking" page with sweepstakes promo

Citibank's "Banking" page showing ad for instant-win game


1. Tested from a Seattle, WA IP address at 10 AM PDT. Cookies are enabled and will show multiple visits to Citibank, but no evidence of any Citibank accounts.


In 2006, 86% of credit card direct mail included online options

By Jim Bruene on March 5, 2007 11:13 AM | Comments (4)

Advertising-monitoring firm, Mintel Comperemedia reported last week that nearly 9 out of 10 credit card solicitations in 2006 directed recipients to the Web, up sharply from 56% in 2003 (see note 1, 2). Several big mailers, namely American Express, still seem reluctant to use website response as an option, at least in the mailers we see at our house.

American Express tests must show a drop in response by offering too many choices. But if you don't have the budget of American Express, which can afford to drop a mail piece in every credit-worthy household every two or three weeks, you should add website options to your direct mail creative. That way, you can at least capture a lead at your website, even if they don't ultimately accept your credit offer. 

Total mailing volume for 2006 was 9.2 billion pieces (see note 1), or about 3 per week per credit-worthy household. Two of those were from the five largest mailers listed below which accounted for more than 60% of the volume, according to Comperemedia. JPMorgan Chase accounted for 18% on its own. 

In another data slice from Comperemedia, cited by Capital One in a Feb. 2006 investor presentation (PDF here), response rates have fallen from 1.4% in 1995 to 0.3% in 2004 (see note 3).

Here's a breakdown of the billion-piece club, and their percent change compared to 2005:  

1. Chase >>> 1.7 billion (down 4%)

2. Capital One >>> 1.2 billion (up 13%)

3. American Express >>> 1 billion

4. Citibank >>> 980 million (down 2%)

5. Bank of America/MBNA >>> 920 million (down 17%)

Other top-10 mailers: HSBC (up 25%); Discover (up 29%); Barclays Bank (190 million, up 70%)


1. Comperemedia tracks mailing volume for more than 150 large financial institutions. So the figures here do not include mailings from thousands of smaller banks and credit unions. In total, those probably account for less than 5% of the total from the top-150. 

2. Comperemedia press release is here. Interview of Comperemedia director Jenny Roock by MediaPost is here.

3. Credit card response rate slide from Capital One's investor presentation (PDF) at the Debt & Equity Conference, Feb. 2006; data from Comperemedia.

Credit card industry response rates

Comments (4)

Citibank Mobile Banking Delayed Until April

By Jim Bruene on March 2, 2007 11:03 AM | Comments (1)

Citibank mobile credit card access in Japan In a multi-page look at mobile banking (here), reporter Laura Bruce quotes Citibank's Rob Julavits as saying the bank will be:

...testing (mobile banking) in March and allowing customers to enroll in April, with a broad launch expected before midyear

That's a few months later than originally expected. The bank sent Citi Mobile disclosures to checking account customers in January indicating the service would be live in February (see article here). Citibank already provides mobile access to its credit cards in Japan (link here).

Comments (1)

Citi Mobile Appears Ready to Go Live in February

By Jim Bruene on January 28, 2007 3:50 PM | Comments

I opened my Citibank checking account statement today and out fell one of those text-only "terms and conditions" notices that are rarely read. However, the title of this one caught my attention (emphasis added):

Important Information: Introducing Citi Mobile

It's an update to the bank's terms and conditions incorporating access via web-enabled cellphone or other mobile device. The statement was mailed January 23rd and the notice carried a 2006 copyright with an "01/07" date by the item number.

There's no mention of any fees for the service, which begins in February 2007, according to the statement insert. Readers are referred to the Citibank website for a list of compatible phones, but we couldn't find anything on Citi Mobile today.

In a Google search we ran across an older Citi Wireless Services website <> with a 2001 copyright date (see screenshot below), but it discusses the previously available services such as alerts sent to mobile phones. There is no mention of the new mFoundry-powered services (see previous coverage here).

Citibank's 2001-era wireless services page CLICK TO ENLARGE

Categories: Citibank, Mobile Banking

Make Sure Your Wikipedia Entry is Factual and Up-to-Date

By Jim Bruene on January 11, 2007 5:31 PM | Comments

Link to Wikipedia Ten years ago, we advised banks to make sure their listings in Yahoo were up to snuff. Now, the major search engines are so good, there isn't much work needed to appear at or near the top of the results for searches on your company name (see note 1). 

However, there is one important online database with massive reach that still needs manual maintenance, Wikipedia. As the sixth-busiest Internet property in the world, with 150 million monthly visitors (see note 2), you should make sure your institution's entry is both factual and up-to-date. One of Wikipedia's defining attributes is that anyone is allowed to edit the content. So there is no reason you shouldn't jump right in and change any factual errors right away. You should also consider adding info and links to missing or incomplete listings, but make sure to follow the strict guidelines prohibiting self promotion.  

Nor surprisingly, Wikipedia prohibits all forms of advertising. And they'll take down any entry deemed to be made to further sales rather than add to the world's knowledge base.

Wikipedia does allow company listings provided your company is deemed "significant" by Wikipedia. Most financial institutions should qualify. However, don't try to put a listing in for your SuperDoubleNet Gold Card. It won't fly.

Also, copy must be devoid of hype, be totally unbiased, and basically read like an encyclopedia entry (see guidelines for company listings here). That said, the online encyclopedia does allow limited use of logos and pictures, so you want to make sure your entry is attractive without being a brochure. Any violations of Wikipedia's guidelines will be quickly deleted.  

Below is the first part of the 1500-word entry for Citibank. Note the use of its current logo and an attractive branch photo. 

In comparison the entry for Boeing Employees Credit Union is just 170 words and devoid of graphics.

Wikipedia entry for BECU Boeing Employees Credit Union CLICK TO ENLARGE

In addition, you might look for other Wikipedia "marketing opportunities" where your bank could be listed as a service provider or reference. Again, it has to add to the facts of an existing article, not be positioned solely for marketing purposes. Of course, this is as gray an area as you can get, so there is no harm in trying as long as you keep the edits in line with the spirit of the website.

Wikipedia entry for remote deposits CLICK TO ENLARGEFor example, in the Wikipedia listing for "remote deposits", under the sub-heading, "usage of remote deposit," the following financial institutions are listed (see screenshot right):

If you have a good remote deposit capture service, add your name to this list. It may or may not be accepted, but it's worth a try.


  1. You should make sure your tags and titles are up-to-date and appropriate (see previous article here). 
  2. Worldwide unique visitors in Sep. 2006, according to comScore (press release here)

Holiday Bank Marketing Continued

By Jim Bruene on December 24, 2006 10:29 AM | Comments

As mentioned last week (here), U.S. banks are starting to get more creative with their websites, with 12 of the 30 largest (note 1) injecting a bit of holiday spirit into their websites.

This year, three of the top-30 banks had major holiday themes running on their homepages; in 2004, none did. And today we viewed another nine with minor holiday sprinkles, making 12 in total. Two years ago, four banks had minor holiday-themed promotions.

We expected to see more banks marketing gift cards, one of the hottest holiday gifts, especially during the last few days before Christmas. Only four banks mentioned gift cards on their homepages on Dec. 24 (note 2):

  • National City
  • BB&T
  • North Fork Bank
  • Commerce Bank

Here is a rundown of those with major holiday themes:

  1. Citibank: Citi had the best overall holiday theme as  it continued pushing its 5% e-Savings Account, with a clever 5% "ornament" hung next to traditional Christmas decorations (see screenshot below).

    Citibank holiday homepage CLICK TO ENLARGE
  2. PNC Bank: Runner-up was PNC with its unique brand of holiday marketing, a tongue-in-cheek look at the cost of the items listed in the popular Christmas song, Twelve Days of Christmas. It's a holiday tradition at PNC which has been tracking the holiday index for 22 years (see screenshot below).

    PNC Bank holiday homepage CLICK TO ENLARGE
  3. Bank of America: The largest online bank used a holiday theme, and $100 off a Dell PC, to encourage users to join the other 20 million BofA customers using its online banking. Customers hitting the bank's homepage were greeted with an animated banner displaying a wrapped package, which after two seconds changed to the Dell deal (see before and after screenshots below).

    Showing before and after package animation:

    Bank of America holiday homepage before CLICK TO ENLARGE

Bank of America holiday homepage after CLICK TO ENLARGE

Other top-30 banks with holiday-oriented images on their homepages:

  • Chase Bank: snow globe with 0% credit card offer
  • Wells Fargo: packages
  • Washington Mutual: snowball with 30-second credit card application
  • Citizens Bank: packages with a debit card rewards promo
  • National City: snowflakes with gift card promo
  • BB&T: packages with a gift card promo
  • Countrywide Bank: snow and packages with a loan promo
  • North Fork Bank: Radio City promo with $15 off coupon and gift cards
  • Commerce Bank: packages with gift card promo


  1. According to Online Banking Report's list of the 150 largest U.S. financial institutions as of 31 March 2006 (link here).
  2. Searches conducted during late morning (EST) on Dec. 24, 2006, from a southwest Florida IP address. Although gift cards were not mentioned on US Bank's homepage on Dec. 24, we had seen them advertised on previous visits, although not necessarily on ithe homepage.

First Direct Bank's Holiday Pop-up Marketing

By Jim Bruene on December 14, 2006 11:21 AM | Comments (1)

Citibank_holiday_homepage_esavings_1I am a sucker for holiday graphics on websites. It doesn't have to be dramatic, a few snowflakes or candy canes in the background is fine. For example, Citibank's e-Savings banner on its homepage today (see inset, click to enlarge). Just like a holiday wreath on the door of the branch, it shows your customers and employees that you have some holiday spirit.

Unlike two years ago (see prior post here), this year many banks and credit unions are running holiday promotions for gift cards and other products (see rundown here) and/or have dropped holiday sprinkles into their websites. The most dramatic is the popup from U.K.'s First Direct <>. This is over-the-top, but it brings a grin, not a bad thing during the end-of-year rush.

First Direct homepage with popup showing (click to enlarge)

First Direct home page with holiday popup CLICK TO ENLARGE

Close-up of popup after choosing "let it snow" option
The loud holiday music that accompanies the snow globe can be turned off with the button in the lower right. Selecting "all snowed out" or "bah humbug!" from the first screen displays a brief "seasons greeting" message before automatically closing the popup.

Comments (1)

Citibank Teams with mFoundry for True Mobile Banking

By Jim Bruene on December 13, 2006 11:53 AM | Comments

Link to mFoundry I spoke with mFoundry CEO/Founder Drew Sievers last week. If you want to get energized over the possibilities of mobile commerce, this is the guy to talk to.

Although mFoundry already has more than 100,000 users of its mobile application, we were most interested in its recently announced deal with Citibank. The bank is set to launch a full mobile banking application in Q1 2007 that encompasses both SMS-based banking and what we call True Mobile Banking (TMB), a banking application running on the mobile device (see definitions here).

While mFoundry's CEO cannot confirm which functions Citibank will use, the vendor's mBanking platform includes the following: 

  • account inquiry
  • transaction summary
  • funds transfer
  • bill payment
  • ATM/branch locator
  • password generator

The platform also supports advertising and service functions (download spec sheet here).

How it Works
The mFoundry approach uses both text messaging for alerts and simple inquires and a complete downloaded application that mimics Web-based online banking (i.e., True Mobile Banking). With True Mobile Banking, the user's phone carries a unique identifier that is registered with the bank (factor one); and before receiving data or initiating a transaction the user must log in with a password or PIN (factor two).

When the user logs in, current balance and recent transactions are automatically downloaded and displayed, satisfying most user needs within seconds. The application times-out after a certain length of time and more importantly, no data is retained on the device itself, so security is nearly perfect. If the phone is lost or stolen a call to the bank will deactivate the service, although as long as the password or PIN has not been revealed, there is little security risk. 

As mentioned in our post three weeks ago (here), it's taken nearly a decade for me to jump on the mobile banking bandwagon. Earlier efforts were too hard to use and had limited appeal, primarily to a small group of PDA-toting geeks.

However, now that even basic mobile phones can use the service (see note 1) and top brands such as Citibank, Cingular, and MasterCard are poised to pump millions into educating the market, mobile finance should take off rapidly (see note 2). 

End Notes

  1. mFoundry says its service works across more than 200 different phones at the five major carriers, AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Sure enough, even our relatively inexpensive 2-year-old Sanyo is on their list of supported phones.
  2. In order to download the mobile application, users select their carrier and phone type from sliding menus (see screenshot below, from mFoundry's My Mobile News).

Downloading the mobile application at mFoundry

2. The next issue of our Online Banking Report will contain a mobile banking forecast.


Best Internet Banks from Global Finance Magazine

By Jim Bruene on August 8, 2006 11:07 AM | Comments

Globalfinance_logoIn its seventh annual Internet-bank "beauty contest," Global Finance Magazine <> named Bank of America the best consumer Internet bank in the United States and Citigroup the best corporate Internet bank. Apparently, the magazine loves Citigroup's work, naming it the best corporate Internet bank in 46 countries and best consumer Internet bank in 11 countries including Germany, United Kingdom, and Indonesia (see list of complete winners, by country, by clicking on the link at the bottom of this article). 

The magazine also named winners in specific categories. In the United States, the winners were:

Consumer Internet Banks:

Best investment management services: Bank of America

Best bill payment and presentment: Bank of America

Best online consumer credit: Wells Fargo

Best website design: Wells Fargo

Best integrated consumer bank site: Bank of America

Best information security initiatives: Bank of America

Best online deposits acquisition: TD Bank Financial Group

Corporate/Institutional Internet Banks:

Best online cash management: Citigroup

Best trade finance services: Citigroup

Best website design: Wells Fargo

Best integrated corporate bank site: Wells Fargo

Best information security initiatives: JPMorgan Chase



Global Finance Magazine's Best Internet Banks for 2006





Banco Rio de la Plata, S.A.


















Banco Bradesco

Banco Bradesco








TD Bank Financial Group

TD Bank Financial Group





Ind. & Com’l Bank of China








Costa Rica



Cote D'Ivoire



Dominican Republic




National Bank of Dubai

National Bank of Dubai







El Salvador














JPMorgan Chase



Piraeus Bank/Winbank










Hong Kong




ICICI Bank Ltd.

ICICI Bank Ltd























AsiaUniversalBank (AUB)

AsiaUniversalBank (AUB)






























Bank of the Philippines


Bank Millennium



Millennium BCP

Millennium BCP

Puerto Rico

Banco Santander



Qatar National Bank

Qatar National Bank


ZAO Raiffeisenbank


Saudi Arabia












South Africa



Sri Lanka








Chinatrust Com’l Bank







Trinidad & Tobago




Garanti Bank





United Arab Emirates



United Kingdom



United States

Bank of America






Banco de Venezuela

BBVA Banco Provincial




Source: Global Finance Magazine <>, July 8, 2006


Citibank Leaves Card Applicants Vulnerable to Identity Theft

By Jim Bruene on August 7, 2006 2:39 PM | Comments

We were impressed with Citibank’s full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times travel section offering 25,000 miles to take a new American Airlines co-branded credit card. As usual, we looked for a link to the Web-based application and were pleased to find a large, reverse-type URL along the bottom of the ad. Unfortunately, Citi did not follow the usual convention for printed landing-page URLs, creating potential problems for applicants.

Typically, offline advertisements use a special filename after the normal domain name, such as <>. This allows users to go directly to the landing page explaining the special offer (see landing page below).


Instead, Citibank used the unique server name "miles5" as in: <>. There are several problems with this approach. First, it’s long and not easily recalled. But the biggest problem is its non-standard format. Internet users do not expect to see an extra period in the middle of a bank's URL. So many users, myself included, may read this as a unique domain name, <>.

Normally, that would be okay. But in this case Citibank neglected to register that domain name. An identity thief could easily have registered that domain, and then taken “applications” for days or weeks before anyone caught on, possibly leaving hundreds of applicants vulnerable to identity theft after entering their personal info, including social security number, in the application.

By mid-day on Monday, almost two days after the ad first appeared in print, the domain was still unregistered. We went ahead and registered it to prove the point, and keep it safe.

The moral of this story: If you live in a glass house, make sure any transparencies are covered. Register your domain name. Citibank, which has spent millions on its anti-identity theft campaign, left itself and its customers vulnerable for the price of an $8.95 domain name. Make sure you register the domain name of any cute URLs you put out there for marketing campaigns. While you are at it, spend $60 and lock it up for 10 years. 

Memo to Citibank’s legal team: We have no commerical interest in the domain and will happily transfer it to your ownership. All we ask is reimbursement of our 9 bucks.



Getting Even with the Citibank Call Center

By Jim Bruene on July 11, 2006 2:18 PM | Comments

     Tom Brown -- 1
     Citibank -- 0

How many times have you been frustrated by your experience at a call center? Well, if you were a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager with his own blog, you could get back at the company, and then some.

Read today's extremely thorough account (transcribed verbatim from a tape recording) of Second Curve's Tom Brown as he attempts to add a PayPass contactless debit card to his Citibank account <>.

A couple lessons here:

1. Flag Tom Brown, and other influential VIPs, in your customer database so they get topnotch phone service
2. Be careful with geographic-based product rollouts to avoid irritating customers
3. Simplify call center scripts



Google Checkout: "iPodding" Ecommerce? Citibank's Unusual Role

By Jim Bruene on July 5, 2006 12:01 AM | Comments

Ipod_nanoHas Google found its iPod? Not the music player, but an end-to-end ecommerce system that is safe, convenient, and above all, drop-dead simple to use. Something that does for online commerce what Apple did for digital music. That's a tall order, but we believe the search giant may have just such a hit on its hands with Google Checkout.

Google_checkout_logo_1For more than a year, there has been a great deal of speculation about Google’s entry into the payments arena. After months of quiet testing with carefully selected beta merchant partners such as Starbucks and, Google Checkout was officially released June 29 <>. Although the reaction in online blogs was mixed, we think it's a winner. The only question is whether it's a home run or a grand slam (or World Cup equivalents, one goal or four).

Google Checkout (previously known as Google Payments or Gbuy) is an online-payments tool integrated with the user's Google account. On the surface, it's similar to PayPal, but the true strength and potential threat is its close ties to Google’s already industry-dominant search function.

At this point, Checkout's functionality is more limited than PayPal's. There is no stored value, no subscription payments, no eBay integration, no non-credit card options, no integrated debit card, or money market account. For the end-user, it's closer to a virtual wallet than a PayPal substitute. However, it goes way beyond what the ewallets of the late 1990s offered, taking control of the entire checkout process, a potentially disruptive technology in online retailing.


How it works
Google_checkout_starbucks Searches that match a Google Checkout advertiser include a shopping cart icon embedded within the AdWords text box (see Google search on "Starbucks store" above). Users can buy products from these merchants in a few clicks without having to enter any additional information (see Google Checkout icon in lower left of the Starbucks shopping cart shown at right). This eliminates the dreaded merchant-account set-up process that causes massive shopping card abandonment problems, especially at relatively unknown merchants where privacy fears are greater.

Google_checkout_starbucks2First-time users are prompted to enter their credit card, billing, and shipping information, which Google stores in its servers (see screenshot left). Subsequent purchases can be made with a simple Google username and password. Users can store additional payment and/or shipping options at any time. Complete purchase histories can then be monitored from their Google account.

Currently, just 100 merchants are participating (see places to buy), but given the potential merchant savings, expect that to change quickly. Twenty-four of the 100 Checkout users offer a $10 discount on purchases of $20 or more (see DayDeals screenshot below).

Google_checkout_daydeal2Like PayPal, Google shields the buyer’s credit card number and other personal information beyond what is necessary for shipping purposes. However, Google also provides the option of keeping the user's email address confidential, a spam-limiting function not available via PayPal.

When a user selects the confidential option (see screenshot below), Google forwards the seller's confirmation message to the end-user.


Sellers are paid directly through their own Google Checkout account. Google has significantly undercut PayPal on pricing, at least for smaller merchants. Google's fee is 2% of the sales amount plus a flat $0.20 transaction fee compared to PayPal’s typical 2.9% plus $0.30 (PayPal has a sliding scale with higher-volume, $100k/mo and above, merchants paying 1.9% plus $0.30).

In addition, Google advertisers earn credits against their processing fees. For every dollar spent on Adwords, sellers can process $10 worth of sales with no processing charges other than the $0.20 transaction fee. It amounts to a 20% discount on AdWords spending, provided there is sufficient Google Checkout volume (i.e., at least 10 times the amount spent in AdWords).

Finally, sellers can create their own Buy Now buttons at the Google site, then drag and drop the HTML code into their websites. This allows small business sellers who are not currently ecommerce-enabled to immediately begin accepting Google Checkout.

Google is expected to provide additional data as the service matures. Having a hand in the process from product search all the way through to the purchase will allow Google to keep tabs on which ads actually result in a sale. This could mean changes to Adwords pricing or structure.

The pitch to consumers is appealing. In addition to the privacy shields, Google promises to mediate disputes, and gives users a central place to track purchases. But the biggest consumer benefit: a common user interface for checkout, something that previous ewallets never provided. As you can see in the screenshot below, after shopping the merchant site, the contents of the cart are transferred to Google. At that point, Google takes over, offering the end-user the following options:

  • Change shipping method with all costs itemized
  • Add a coupon code
  • Change credit card
  • Change shipping address
  • Shield email address from merchant
  • SIgn up for promotional messages from merchant
  • Links to the user's Google account
  • Concise summary of the billing info, including exactly how the charge will appear on the user's credit card statement
  • Concise summary of the merchant's return policy


Will consumers give up more personal information to the largest data repository on earth? Initial polls seem to suggest so. In addition, you can bet that merchants will create incentives to move credit card and/or PayPal volume to Google to save as much as 3% on card processing. For a retailer with a 10% margin, that's a potential 30% lift.

You might be thinking that free credit card processing is a short-term loss leader that will end as soon as a critical mass of merchants adopts Google's system. We don't think so. Put yourself in the shoes of a Google advertiser. You now know that you'll earn a 20% discount on your AGoogle_checkout_signindWords buy. Will you let that drop to the bottom line, or might you use some of that windfall to goose your bids on Google a bit? If it's an efficient market, eventually much, if not all, of the "free" card processing will flow back to Google in the form of higher bids. And since not all merchants will qualify for the 20% discount, Google might actually increase its total take due to the "discount." Brilliant.   

Google_checkout_ccregCitibank's role
The program should have little impact on retail banks, since at this point Google Checkout must use a bank-issued credit or signature debit card to participate. However, Citibank is paying Google to be the "preferred card" on both the Google sign-in page (click on inset above for closeup) and the credit card registration page (click on inset right). The credit card giant is hoping the $5 (or 1000 Thank-you points), will entice users to enter their Citi card into the Google wallet. The $5 bonus offer ends Aug. 1.

Retail banks might want to consider supporting the payment service with a secure gateway to various online payment alternatives so users can manage their PayPal, Google, and other accounts directly from a secure online banking area.

If you are a credit card processor, however, this could eventually pose a threat to your market share and/or margins. Even without factoring in the AdWord's credit, Google's highly publicized 2% discount rate, along with a lack of monthly fees, is a bargain, especially for small businesses. However, given the reluctance of businesses to change banking relationships, it will be years before the impact is felt.


Categories: Citibank, Epayments, Google

Citibank cracks the "Wired 40"

By Jim Bruene on June 30, 2006 7:32 AM | Comments

Wired_cover_190_1We are huge fans of Wired magazine <>, having read just about every one of its 190 monthly issues. In fact, eight or nine years ago I used to tell friends that the goal of Online Banking Report was to translate the technology magazine into "banking terms."   

I still recommend the magazine to anyone interested in the future of digital communications, marketing, or content (that ought to cover anyone reading this). So if you're not already on board, head to its website and plunk down US$10 for an annual subscription.

Wired 40
Wired_40_logo_1Every year Wired publishes its list of its top 40 companies, The Wired 40. Most are large companies selected for their strategic vision, global reach, killer technology, and hunger for new ideas. The latest ranking (July issue) has Google at #1, knocking Apple from the top. The biggest surprise, New Corp. hitting the chart at #9. The company, which wasn't even ranked last year, has become an Internet giant with its purchase of MySpace last year (see NB March 16).

Here's the top 10 with last year's rank in parenthesis:

  1. Google (#2)
  2. Apple (#1)
  3. Samsung (#3)
  4. Genentech (#7)
  5. Yahoo (#5)
  6. (#6)
  7. Toyota (#8)
  8. General Electric (#17)
  9. News Corp. (NEW)
  10. SAP (#11)

Ge_wired_onlineAs you would expect, there's not much in the way of financial services in the list. However, Citibank holds on to the number 38, down two spots from last year. Not entirely coincidental, Citi is one of the few major financial services advertisers in Wired. This month, the bank has a huge buy, with a fold-out front-cover spread pitching its "Citi identity theft solutions."

GE (#8), Yahoo (#5), Microsoft (#36), and even Google (#1) have significant retail financial services, although they account for mere slivers of the giants' overall revenues.

Like Citibank, GE elected to make an ad buy this month, pitching its high-yield deposit products on the online version of the Wired 40 list (see inset).

Falling out of the top 40 this year was TD Ameritrade which the magazine said still "ruled etrading, but what once was a disruptive technology is now a commodity."

Categories: Citibank, Strategies

Online Banking's "Second Wave"

By Jim Bruene on June 28, 2006 12:42 PM | Comments

In today's Wall Street Journal, personal finance writer Jane Kim does a roundup of what she calls "the next wave of online banking." The impetus for the article was Yodlee's new MoneyCenter that will be available to consumers in early July. I was interviewed for the article and provided several of the examples along with the market size estimate.

In addition to Yodlee, the following developments were chronicled in the article:

  • Citibank's <> 50-fold increase in online interbank transfer limits from around $2,000 to $100,000 this summer. In what may simply be a self-serving comment made to a reporter, the bank cites the demand for its new e-Savings account as an impetus for the change.
  • Commerce Bank's (NJ) Virtual Private Bank <> for customers with $1 million or more in investable assets.
  • Wells Fargo's My Spending Report, a simple integrated spending report we discussed last year. (NB Feb. 17, 2005)
  • Bank of America's <> account aggregation and recently expanded account alerts.
  • Chase's <> next-day bill payment.

Although most of these examples are relatively minor improvements, it's good to see the mainstream press recognizing online banking innovations. The last few years have been dominated by security concerns, and we believe it's a great sign that reporters are looking for "what's next." It would be wise to have an answer to that question when your local paper calls.

We believe the Virtual Private Bank (VPB) from Commerce and the Yodlee system deserve closer examination. We'll cover Yodlee's new product when it goes live next month. And, although we won't be able to drop a million into Commerce Bank, we'll take the VPB for a test drive later this week.


If you'd like to learn more about the future of online banking, check out the Online Banking & Bill Pay Forecast: Current, future and historical usage: 1994 to 2016 from our sister publication, The Online Banking Report.


Five Percent Savings Rate from Citibank

By Jim Bruene on June 26, 2006 10:18 AM | Comments

In yet another aggressive deposit-pricing move, Citibank raised its e-Savings rate to 5%, the first major high-yield player to surpass the magic 5% mark on a savings account with a low minimum balance. IndyMac (5%, $25k min) and Countrywide (5.25%, $50k min) hit 5% before Citi, but have higher minimums.

Keep in mind, Citi's account requires a checking account, a significant part of the strategy that has attracted more than $2 billion in new money in the past three months (NB June 1).



Citibank's e-Savings email

By Jim Bruene on June 21, 2006 4:24 PM | Comments

Last night, Citibank sent selected checking-account customers an email solicitation for its 4.75% APR e-Savings account. I live outside its branch network, so Citi may have elected not to send the message to customers serviced by traditional branches.

Citibank_email_esavings_with_imageThe message was direct and to the point (click on screenshot left). Citibank even included the impressive 4.75% interest rate in the message subject. The only distracting portion of the message was a garbled first word in the second paragraph. It was probably caused by incompatibilities in software rendering of the apostrophe in the first word, "there's." To avoid this type of error, make sure you proof your message in multiple email clients.

The bank continues to engender trust in its marketing messages by including the "email security" box in the upper-right corner which includes the customer's full name and last four digits of their ATM card. The security information is prominently displayed, in a blue shaded box to make it more prominent, even if the user has images blocked (see screenshot below).

The bank also includes short text messages that appear where the images would have been displayed (alt-text tags) making the message relatively readable even for users that never download the images.


Surprisingly, the landing page for the offer was a generic product page. The campaign would be much more effective if the bank had reinforced the e-Savings benefits on the landing page like it does when it advertises online (see NB March 29). Click on the following link to see a screenshot of the landing page. --JB


Landing page
(displayed when clicking on the "signup" button in the email).

Note: I tested the link on my laptop where I am not recognized as a customer and on my desktop that saves my username in a cookie. Both times I was served the same landing page (below).



Citi Direct Bringing in $1 Billion Per Month in New Money

By Jim Bruene on June 1, 2006 3:50 PM | Comments

According to remarks made by Citibank CEO Charles Prince at the Sanford Bernstein investor conference, the bank's new high-yield savings account, currently yielding 4.75% (see NetBanker May 19), is bringing in $1 billion per month in new money. He characterized the deposit total as, "the equivalent of having opened 23 new branches."

His exact quote, available via webcast (comments start at the 47:45 mark of the webcast) was, "In the first ten days after the launch, we had ten times the volume we predicted. Today, literally only a few weeks after the launch, we've raised 3 billion dollars in deposits." He also said that two-thirds of that was "new money to the institution."

These numbers are in line with the industry forecast outlined by director Catherine Palmieri a month ago (see NetBanker May 5) of $250 billion in 2006. If that forecast holds true, $20 billion per month into high-yield savings, Citibank is bagging 7% to 8% of the market. 



Citi Focuses on its High-Yield Savings Account

By Jim Bruene on May 19, 2006 9:24 AM | Comments

Citi_esavings_msn_1On Tuesday (5/16), Citibank raised its e-Savings rate 25 basis points to 4.75%, making it the highest savings rate at a name-brand financial institution. Only Corus Bank in Chicago has a higher APY on today, 4.84% with a $10,000 minimum.

Bankrate_savingspageMore importantly, Citi continues its massive ad buy touting the rate. It was back on the top of MSN's homepage today, and the bank has bought huge parcels of, with some pages running three Citibank promos, top, bottom and side (see BankRate "Checking & Savings" page right). It's similar to what Emigrant Direct did last year to kick off its direct banking efforts (click here to see past NetBanker articles on deposit marketing).

Emigrant Direct, HSBC, ING Direct, and now Citibank are all spending $10+ million per year promoting high rates (see ad spending NetBanker5/17). While high-rate offers are nothing new, the ease of finding rate deals online and transferring the funds means it will be harder to hold onto those high-balance 0.50% checking and savings account balances.



Hiding Your Offer from Existing Customers

By Jim Bruene on May 10, 2006 12:45 AM | Comments

Usually, when designing targeted offers, you focus on what you know about the prospect. Where do they live? What products do they use? What's their balance? What if you wanted to offer a product only to folks you know nothing about, such as new visitors to your website?

Suppose you had a hot APY offer you wanted to make only to new customers to avoid cannibalizing that cash cow, the passbook savings account. Using cookies, you could avoid showing the offer to online banking users, minimizing their awareness of the product.

Citi_esavings_homepageApparently, Citibank is using this approach. In a routine visit to Citibank's website in mid-April using our laptop, we were surprised to see advertisements for its 4.50% e-Savings account dominating the website (click on inset for a closeup). When the high-yield product was announced (NetBanker March 29), many observers believed it was a stealth offer made through a new "Citibank Direct" entity.

But when we returned to the office, the offer had disappeared from the homepage. We had to click on the small "special offers" link to find it listed along with several other offers. Apparently, the cookies on our office PC, which identify us as a Citibank online banking user, triggered the website to load a different homepage. We confirmed this through testing on other PCs.

But before you use this tactic, realize it has significant drawbacks. First, it doesn't work with users who delete or disable cookies, estimated to be as high as 40%. Also, an online banking user visiting from a different location, or with a different browser, will also see your offer.

There is also the risk of your clever marketing being outed to the press and public, which may find the practice deceptive (see SmartMoney, April 2006). Finally, you may be teaching users to game your system, deleting cookies more often, entering different zip codes, and so on. This could hinder your ability to deliver targeted promotions to the customers you DO know something about.


Citi_google_citibankNote: Citibank isn't shy about putting the offer on Google, where it shows as the top paid result on searches for  "Citibank" (see screenshot right).


Citi Markets e-Savings in Amazon Packages

By Jim Bruene on May 8, 2006 11:00 PM | Comments



Amazon_box_1The new headphones for my son’s eleventh birthday arrived last week with the usual advertising fliers dropped into the box. One of the three products caught my eye, a 4x6 glossy sheet advertising Citibank’s 4.5% e-Savings account. Citi_esavings_amazonofferIt looked much like their online ads with a blue-and-white theme emphasizing the APY (see right).





On the back, four benefits were highlighted:


  • Free Online Bill Pay
  • Online Fraud Protection
  • Free Wireless Alerts
  • Online Statements and Check Images

Notice how the 13 words of benefits included “free” twice, “online” twice, along with the positive buzzwords “wireless,” “fraud protection,” and “check images.”
Citi_offersiteThe bank used an easy-to-remember URL <> with offer code CSA2 (click on inset to see the Citibank offer site prior to inputting the offer code).
The fine print contained the usual requirement that it was not available in Citi branches. Interestingly, the bank elected to forego the usual toll-free number option.







Marketing Database -

If you'd like to learn more about past interactive financial marketing campaigns, check out the Interactive Financial Marketing Database from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Citibank's Forecast for Online Savings

By Jim Bruene on May 5, 2006 9:25 AM | Comments

Google_onlinesavingsaccount In an effort to boost awareness of its 4.5% e-savings account (see NetBanker March 29), Citibank made the unusual decision to reveal its 5-year forecast for industry-wide sales of online savings accounts. In today's New York Times, director Catherine Palmieri made the following market size estimates:

$250 billion in 2006
$600 billion in 2010

To put the numbers in perspective, the 2006 estimate is approximately four times the total deposits of the two biggest direct banks, ING Direct and E*Trade. And it's about 4% of the total U.S. deposit market of $6 trillion.

Assuming Citibank is right and the online savings market grows at a compounded rate of 25% per year, it will represent 10% of today's total deposits or 8.5% of the total $7 trillion in total deposits 2010, assuming a 3% annual growth rate.

The article also said that HSBC Direct is on track to have 250,000 accounts by the end of this year.

Googling "online savings accounts" from a Seattle IP address today found Citibank in the number seven position. Here were the top advertisers (see inset above for closeup):

1. HSBC Direct
2. Emigrant Direct
3. Capital One
4. American Express
5. E*Trade
6. Alaska USA Credit Union (Seattle local ad)
7. Citibank Direct



Notes from BAI's SmartTactics Conference

By Jim Bruene on April 24, 2006 7:40 PM | Comments

Bai_smarttactics_logo_1Several interesting tidbits surfaced from today's presentations at BAI's SmartTactics conference in Las Vegas:

Citibank online account acquisition
In 2002, 6% of Citibank's new checking accounts were generated online; in 2005, the number was 20%.

Our comments: Keep in mind that Citi's experience is unique. It has a huge brand and relatively small branch network, so many of its new accounts have no choice but to open online, or over the phone. And part of the growth can be attributed to non-checking products, such as its high-yield savings, that REQUIRE a companion checking account.

Bank of America's SiteKey rollout
The rollout of mandatory two-factor authentication is complete, except in Oregon and Washington where it is expected to go live in June. Prior to becoming mandatory, users had a period of time where it was an optional feature; however, only 8% opted in during this phase. When the PassMark-powered system became mandatory, users were served notice during their first two logins that they needed to sign up before it became required on the third login. Only 4% signed up during the first two warnings, and 96% put it off until the third try.

Note: PassMark was acquired by RSA Security today.

Our comments: Taken together, only 12% of users opted for stronger security before it was required, far below the 60% or so that say they want more security in consumer-research studies.

Zions remote deposit-capture results
Zions Bank has grown its remote-deposit client base from 364 in January 2005 to 3,697 in January 2006, and they are adding nearly 100 clients per week. The bank has bagged more than $200 million in incremental deposits and has increased loans and fee income. The Utah bank is now looking for new business worldwide with clients in 49 states and five countries outside the United States. It has clients of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 to small businesses that use it for just one check per month.

Our comments: If you needed ammunition to move this up the priority list, keep your eye on Zions: It said that its main problem now is just keeping up with the all the requests.

Research results from Yahoo Search Marketing
A Forrester study of all U.S. banking customers (not just online bankers), commissioned by Yahoo and OgilvyOne Worldwide, found that 61% of all banking-product research is being done online vs. 5% via phone and 30% in branch. Similarly, 64% of account monitoring is now down online vs. 16% via phone and 13% in-branch. But account opening at branches still dominates at 84% of new account openings, compared to 14% online and 2% via phone. 

Yahoo also said they expect 50 million online credit card applications in the United States this year.

Our comments: Wow, time to pull out all the stops in your online account-opening initiatives.


Citibank's 4.5% Direct Banking Savings Account

By Jim Bruene on March 29, 2006 4:37 PM | Comments

Citi_hysa_ad_yahooIn more direct banking news,* Citibank landed all over the media with the launch of a 4.5% no-minimum-balance savings account. A Citi checking account is required to qualify. The reason for the media attention had nothing to do with the rate, and everything to do with the channel conflict inherent in the offer.

The first line of fine print under the offer was (click on screenshot below for closeup; click on "Continue reading..." below for the full text of the mousetype):

This offer is not available at Citibank financial centers

Citi_hysa_landing_yahooMany stories contained an inaccurate observation that Citibank was launching an entirely new Internet bank. This inaccuracy seems to have its roots in the Reuters wire piece that first discussed the savings account offer.

The truth: This is NOT a new bank. It's NOT a new website. It's NOT even a strategic shift for Citi, which has previously made high-rate deposit offers to online customers (see OBR 120/121). This is simply a new advertising campaign targeted to online users, especially those frequenting Yahoo's homepage (click on inset to see the ad positioning).

Any of Citi's existing 2.5 million online banking customers can open the account by logging in to online banking and selecting "open an account" and following the directions. A small link in the lower right of the landing page directs existing Citi customers to these instructions.

Initial funding can be made by mail, credit card, debit card, or ACH (electronic interbank funds transfer). After the account is open, additional deposits can be made at Citi ATMs or through IN-BRANCH deposits.

You've seen high-rate savings account offers before. There is little new here. What can you really say about a savings account once you deal with the rate and the balance requirement?

Citi_hysa_acctopening What sets Citibank apart in this instance is its near-perfect sign-up form (click on inset right). The page is dominated by a banner promising that it will "take 10 minutes & 4 simple steps." The bank backs that up by showing the four steps immediately below the banner.

  1. Tell us about yourself
  2. Confirm your identity
  3. Fund your account
  4. Provide your E-Signature

Although these steps are the same as what thousands of banks have done for years, Citi's language is exceptional in its clarity and how it addresses consumer fears. The "confirm your identity" demonstrates the bank's commitment to stopping fraud. The "provide your e-signature" lets customers know they won't have to mail some old-fashioned signature card to the bank before they can start enjoying the new rate.

The bank also uses several other devices to ensure that customers feel confident about acting on this offer:

  • "We care about your privacy and security" box with link for more info (upper left)
  • VeriSign clickable logo (left)
  • Ability to save and complete the application later (upper left)
  • Ability to print a blank application to mail in (upper left)
  • Link to account details and fees (upper right)
  • Link to live chat or toll-free number (right)

But we called this "near-perfect" for a reason.

There are several concerns not addressed on this page:

  • Timing: How long will it take before my initial deposit starts earning 4.5%?
  • Guarantee: Even though they address the need to confirm your identity, the bank doesn't come right out and guarantee the safety of the process.
  • No reinforcement of account benefits: Although it's been only a few moments since the customer navigated to this page, don't let them lose sight of why they should go through the uncomfortable process of typing their personal details into a browser that may or may not be transmitting their keystrokes to Uruguay. Keep that 4.5% number right in their face.

Another weakness: navigation overload. Citi has included its full My Citi personal navigation across the top along with all the site utilities in the upper right. While this is helpful for research purposes, it tends to be distracting and will pull customers away from the savings account application.

Final Grade
Despite a few minor weaknesses, it's impressive work. Definitely scores an A and is closing in on A+.

Web address for offer:

*We've started a new Direct Banking category for Financial Marketing Week, so you can easily find all the articles on the topic with a single click.

Continue reading "Citibank's 4.5% Direct Banking Savings Account" »


Citibank using Google to Pitch Credit Monitoring

By Jim Bruene on February 20, 2006 1:36 PM | Comments


Since the dawn of the online credit bureau era (1997/1998), online credit report marketing has been dominated by the specialists: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, (now owned by Experian), Fair Isaac, Intersections, and others.

Citi_creditmonitoring_googlead_2Now, financial institutions are becoming more involved. For example, Citibank's AdWords spot pitching its Credit Monitoring Service showed up fourth overall (and second in the right-hand column) in a search today for "credit report monitoring" on Google (click on inset right for a closer view). With 84 advertisers vying for space on the first page or two of results, that's expensive real estate.

Citi's $9.95/mo service (after one free month) is powered by Intersections <> and includes info from all three credit bureaus, daily alerts based on Equifax info, $20,000 in identity theft insurance, and other benefits (see screenshot below for a full listing).

Another surprise advertiser in the category is Wal-Mart whose ad appears in the sixth position along the right side of the search results (see inset above). The retail giant's $7.46/mo service is co-branded with TransUnion's TrueCredit (click here for screenshot).

We are big fans of credit report monitoring, having personally used it for more than a decade. And while the service does deliver significant value, we think the single $9.95/mo price point is too high for the mass market. Granted, ten bucks is better than the $14.95/mo charged by TransUnion's TrueCredit for a similar service (see inset for an email received today). But the $120/yr is simply too much for information that can be extracted relatively easily by consumers themselves.

Better would be a multi-tiered offering: Regular/Gold/Platinum that starts at under $5/mo and peaks at $9.95/mo for an individual, $14.95/mo for a family. That way, more customers would receive the benefits of proactive monitoring while the truly paranoid could use the pricier options for added peace of mind. Truecredit_email

Another puzzling aspect of Citi's service: it's impossible to find it through the home page. It not only lacks its own link in the product menus, but also comes up blank in searching on "credit report monitoring" or even "credit reports." You shouldn't have to use Google to find such an important service, especially at a bank that's spent tens of millions promoting itself as a safe haven against identity theft.

For more information on credit-report monitoring, see Online Banking Report #83/84. For more on pricing, see OBR #109.



Citibank's Comprehensive Loyalty Program

By Jim Bruene on October 18, 2005 5:54 PM | Comments

Definition: loy·al  (loil) adj. Steadfast in allegiance


Citi_thankyou_3 When I was a graduate student 17 years ago, I did a lot of research into so-called loyalty programs. At that time, other than the airlines and grocery stores (think S&H Green Stamps); it was a relatively new concept.

Now, just about every modern retailer has a loyalty program of one form or another, from pizza joints (our favorite spot has a “frequent pier” discount), to book stores ($25 annual fee for at 10% discount at Barnes & Noble), and even pet stores. The programs typically provide discounts, VIP services, and/or special programs for frequent customers.


Many financial institutions provide loyalty features such as relationship pricing, rewards for credit/debit card usage, personal bankers, and events for high-net-worth clients. But Citibank is breaking new ground with its Thank-You Points program.


The new rewards program has been featured in media campaigns for the past several months (thank you Citibank for focusing on the positive rather than continuing to over-publicize the identify theft problem). The program delivers points both for the depth of the Citi relationship and the amount of debit card spending. Spending on the many of the bank's credit cards, including the new Simplicity card, also count for points.

Debit card spending is straightforward, earning 1 point for every $2 spent on signature debit and 1 point for every $3 spent on PIN debit. Credit card spending earns 1 point per dollar.

Citi_rewards_chart_1Relationship points are earned for anyone having 3 or more accounts with the bank, and range from 25 points per month with 3 products and a Citibank Access checking account to 1200 points per month for someone with 7 or more products and a CitiGold Account (click on inset for more detailed information). An online tool is available to help users estimate the reward points they will accrue.

Customers are NOT automatically enrolled; they must call a toll-free number to enroll. There is no online enrollment option. Points can be redeemed by phone or through a dedicated website, <> which is currently closed for remodeling and due to reopen next week.


Example rewards:

  • 20G iPod = 50,000 points
  • round-trip coach air fare = 25,000 points
  • make a wish = 25,000 minimum
  • gift certificates: $5 = 1000 points; $10 = 1500 points; $25 = 3000; or $10 per thousand for larger amounts

Loyalty programs can have a significant impact on customer retention and purchase behavior. However, the programs have three inherent problems:

  1. Cost of communicating the incentives and member reward status
  2. Consumer disinterest/apathy/fatigue with the program
  3. Cost of the incentives

Online delivery helps solve the first two problems. With email and web-based delivery the cost to communicate the details of the loyalty program are negligible, other than the fixed cost to create the communication. Second, the program can be kept fresh with continual feedback to the user when logged in to online banking. A progress chart along and program news serves as a constant reminder of the program benefits.

However, online delivery does little itself to impact the cost of the incentives. In fact, by making it easier to track and redeem rewards, you may be actual increase incentive costs due to higher redemption levels. On the other hand, if you increase interest and awareness, you may be able to get equivalent lift from lower-cost rewards.


The final word: Online delivery has the potential to greatly increase the impact of bank loyalty programs. So, expect other major banks to enact programs similar to Citi's. If you have a loyalty program, you may want to look at how it's delivered online. If you are not doing anything to systematically reward your best customers, you may want to add this to your 2006/2007 plans.




Reference: Citi ThankYouRewards screenshot (links do not work)


Citibank's Security Pop-Up

By Jim Bruene on August 23, 2005 3:54 PM | Comments

Citi_popupUnder the "every little bit helps" theory, Citibank's popup window when registering for online credit card access is a nice touch.

The popup (click on inset for closer view) reassures users that they are entering information into a secure site. The well-crafted verse goes like this:

A little word that that means a lot--especially online.
Rest assured, this registration process is just that.

The window closes itself in about 10 seconds, if the user hasn't done so already.


To learn more about how to promote online security and peace of mind, check out Marketing Security: The sensitive issue of publicizing security and authorization enhancements from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Citibank Logout Screen Example

By Jim Bruene on July 8, 2005 1:12 AM | Comments

One neglected area of the online customer experience is logging out. Are you thanking your customer for banking online? Reinforcing that their secure session has safely ended? How about a little cross-promotion from time to time?

We've logged off more than a thousand times from dozens of financial institutions and it's never been particularly noteworthy.

Citi_signoff_screen However, this week Citibank's logoff screen caught our eye (click on inset for full screenshot). Not only did the bank thank us for our business, they posted an attractive promotion for its banking rewards program.

You may not have offer something quite as elaborate as the Citi program, but you can effectively use the logoff page to highlight service improvements, call attention to upcoming events, or highlight community involvement and volunteer opportunities.



2004 Online Financial Services Ad Spending

By Jim Bruene on June 7, 2005 2:54 PM | Comments

JP Morgan Chase and Citibank led all banking and lending companies in online ad spending according to the most recent American Banker survey of financial services spending (May 2005).

Chase’s $50 million in online advertising was 21% of its entire advertising expense, the highest among major banks, and considerably above the 11% online share across all financial services companies. In comparison, Citi’s $49 million spent online was only 9% of its total advertising expense, slightly below the industry average.

NetBank, the 16th biggest online advertiser, was the percentage leader, funneling all but $100,000 of its $4.9 million in advertising into online initiatives. Two other major online advertisers spent more than half their money online last year: ING Direct spending 60% of its $40 million total online, and MBNA spending more than half its $14 million online.

Lending Tree, Quicken Loans, HSBC, Sovereign and East-West Mortgage all devoted about one-third of their advertising into the online channel.

Top-20 Financial Institutions Online Advertisers*
2004 Online Advertising (% of total advertising)*
1. JP Morgan Chase  $50 million (21%)
2. Citigroup              $49 million (9%)
3. American Express $28 million (9%)
4. Bank of America    $25 million (9%)
5. ING Direct            $24 million (60%)
6. Lending Tree        $22 million (31%)
7. Ameriquest           $16 million (13%)
8. Quicken Loans       $10 million (33%)
9. Wells Fargo           $9.2 million (14%)
10. HSBC                  $8.3 million (39%)
11. MBNA                  $7.0 million (51%)
12. Wachovia            $6.3 million (7%)
13. E-Loan                $6.1 million (21%)
14. NetBank              $4.8 million (98%)
15. Discover             $4.7 million (6%)
16. GM                     $3.8 million (4%)
17. Royal Bank          $3.2 million (12%)
18. Sovereign           $2.8 million (33%)
19. East-West Mtg.    $2.7 million (32%)
20. WAMU                $1.9 million (2%)

*Banking, Lending, Mortgage, or Credit Card segments only, does not include online brokerage, insurance, or investments.

If you look at the brokerage and mutual fund category, the spending accelerates. Four online brokers Ameritrade ($65 million), Scottrade ($63 million), Schwab ($58 million), and E*Trade $52 million) each outspent even the largest financial institution, and Netstock Direct ($32 million) outspent all but Citi and Chase.

Top-10 Brokerage & Mutual Funds

2004 Online Advertising (% of total advertising)

1. Ameritrade   $65 (64%)

2. Scottrade     $63 (87%)                              

3. Schwab        $58 (35%)                              

4. E*Trade        $52 (77%)                              

5. Netstock       $32 (99%)                              

6. Harrisdirect  $24 (78%)                              

7. Vanguard      $12 (31%)                              

8. TD Bank        $10 (17%)                              

9. Fidelity        $5.3 (4%)                               

10. T.Rowe Price $3.8 (5%)

Download the Excel file with more details.    




Citibank Fights Fraud with Personalized Emails

By Jim Bruene on May 30, 2005 12:01 AM | Comments

Citi_secure_email_closeupIt's fitting that the financial company most targeted in phishing attacks, Citibank, would be the first to introduce a new email format that goes a long way towards helping users identify legitimate email messages.

Citi_secure_email_message The personalized emails (click on inset to enlarge) include not only the name of the recipient, but also the last 4 digits of the user's ATM card. While simple personalization with the customer name would help many users identify legitimate emails, it's far from fool-proof.

First, there's the relatively common practice of including first name and/or last names in email addresses. Also, some phishers are using direct marketing tactics and first running email addresses through various databases to append actual names and other info to the email record in order to develop a personalized pitch (see ZD-Net article).

Citibank's new email format was announced to customers through a short message on the top of the online banking screen in early May. It is also now mentioned in the bank's main FAQ page.

This is a great first step in winning back the confidence of users. Eventually email standards will evolve so that the email client will be able to readily identify legitimate emails, but that could be years in the future.

If you are considering a similar approach, you might want to let users choose the name and identifying information that appears in the personalization box. In February, we reported on a UK security initiative that took that approach.

For more information:

-- JB

Editor's Note: Citibank received an OBR Best of the Web award for this and other security features in Online Banking Report #119, "Marketing Security."


Banking Bill Payment Guarantees

By Jim Bruene on April 15, 2005 8:01 PM | Comments

Checkfree_logoWe believe a strong bill payment guarantee is crucial, not only to the credibility of your epayments program, but by implication, to your entire online banking offering. CheckFree has offered its logo up for years, but your customers want to know what YOU will do for them; most would prefer to know nothing about CheckFree.

And your guarantee needs to be visible to both online banking users and those just thinking about it. One of the best ways to increase visibility is by creating a "bill-pay guarantee" icon that users can click through to learn more about it.

Citi_billpay_logo_1 One of the better examples is at Citibank (inset) on its logon page. When you click on the logo, a small popup appears (click on the thumbnail below):


This guarantee has great copy, you can tell the marketing department was heavily involved. Rather than just reiterating the rather droll performance guarantee,* the bank also highlights several benefits:

  • No hidden charges, in other words, unlike "free checking," bill pay really is free
  • 24/7 service with "fast response"

*Citi's bill-pay guarantee states that payments will be processed within 24-hours and delivered to payees according to the schedule, or the bank will pay for any fees incurred.



Citibank's Impressive Follow-up Sales Effort

By Jim Bruene on March 18, 2005 12:10 AM | Comments

Citi_free_ipodCitibank has woken my sick-in-bed wife the last two mornings, calling to remind me to submit my paperwork to fund the new checking account I established online two weeks ago.

She's not so thrilled with the bank, but I'm impressed with its tenacity.

Here is the scorecard of bank followup efforts:

  • Email = 1 (about 2 weeks after application...almost missed it, thought it was a phish)
  • Mail = 1 (technically not a reminder, it was the sig card and new account kit)
  • Phone = 3 (first about 1 week after application, then number 2 and 3, about 2 weeks after application

It's an impressive follow-up effort. I've applied for a number of accounts over the years and I can recall receiving only one telephone call, from Salem Five back in 1995, and that wasn't even an application, just a sales lead. The last time I tried to start a checking account, with Washington Mutual, I never heard from them, not so much as a single email or letter thanking me for my application. As far as I know it's still sitting in limbo on some backup tape.

Sorry for the delay Citibank, I really do want that iPod, so I will be sending my $2500 deposit ASAP.

Action Item
If a company with as much experience as Citibank has found it to be profitable to make follow-up phone calls on unfunded new accounts, you should consider doing it as well. However, you may have more luck than Citi does using email followups. Citibank's brand in an email message is practically worthless these days after the pounding it's received from phishers.


Categories: Citibank, Sales Techniques

Citibank's iPod Offer -- Too Much of a Good Thing?

By Jim Bruene on January 7, 2005 5:24 PM | Comments

Citi_ipodForget about toasters.

Citibank is handing out iPod minis to new online banking customers provided they fund their new checking accounts with at least $2500 and pay at least two bills per month for a year.

This raises the ante for online account acquisition. It's a pricey premium, even for Citibank, which has long been aggressive at its website, giving away eye-catching premiums such as DVD players or $100 cash.

There is no doubt that giving away the ultra-hot iPod mini will drive new accounts. But it may be over the top for a checking account offer, even by Manhattan standards.

How many 20- and 30-somethings will game the system just to qualify for the iPod? An even bigger concern is existing customers closing their accounts and reopening online in order to pick up an iPod.

But Citi knows what it is doing, and they must figure the new accounts, along with the publicity, makes the risk worthwhile. It will be interesting to see what this book of accounts looks like a year or two from now.

We think most financial institutions, at least those outside the NYC metro area, should keep premiums in the $50 to $75 range. It's enough to generate interest and applications, but not enough to create a buzz at FatWallet with people virtually salivating at the prospect of picking up low-cost iPod at the expense of a huge bank.

Aside: Kudos to Citi for posting a link to the Red Cross for tsunami relief.

If you'd like to learn more about the financial interactive marketing efforts, check out the Interactive Financial Marketing Database from our sister publication, the Online Banking Report.


Online New Bank Account Acquisition

By Jim Bruene on May 17, 2004 4:36 PM | Comments

Wondering whether to improve your online account opening process? In a recent American Banker article, Citibank said that 10% of its new checking accounts are opened online, and that's before they streamlined the process making it paper free. Previously, customers had to mail or fax a form with their handwritten signature.


Citibank offering $75 for new checking accounts

By Jim Bruene on April 29, 2004 4:46 PM | Comments

Citibank is offering $75 for customers who open a checking account online.

Fine print:
$1,500 minimum deposit
must initiate 2 bill payments within 60 days of account opening


Citibank Issues an A2a Challenge to the Industry

By Jim Bruene on December 6, 2003 1:49 PM | Comments

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. At BAI’s mid-November tech fest in New Orleans, Citibank’s Catherine Palmieri took the stage and challenged the audience to get moving with interbank, also known as account-to-account transfers (A2A). She said that 75% of its online transfers were inbound and that Citi was taking money away from the other big banks and brokerages, many of whom were in the room. Although they had not marketed the program yet, Palmieri reported “thousands” of users (she declined to be more specific).

I’m not sure what motivated Citi to hype its funds transfer prowess, except perhaps as a favor for partner CashEdge,1 who’s CEO Sanjeev Dheer, co-presented with Palmieri. Later Dheer assured me that Citigroup has no financial stake in the privately-funded company. In fact, two Citi competitors, Royal Bank and CIBC, made equity investments in CashEdge earlier this year.

As far as I’m concerned, when you make $4.8 billion dollars in the prior quarter, as Citi did in Q3, you are entitled to make any boast you want. Certainly, the A2A program is strategically the right thing to do. But we wouldn’t put much stock in the 70% to 75% inbound percentage that Citibank and other CashEdge clients have experienced.2 Since Citi has no fee for
standard (3-day ACH) inbound transfers, but charges $3 for standard outbound transfers, it’s not surprising that there is more inbound activity.3

If that pricing philosophy continues, the percentage of inbound to outbound transfers through web-based A2A will likely go higher. If Bank A and B both offer free inbound ACH transfers and charge for outbound, users will gravitate to the source of free transfers. For example, they will use A when transferring from B into A. But will use B when transferring from A into B. This doesn’t bode well for significant long-term incremental fee income, unless you can differentiate your service from others through ease-of-use, pricing, or trust (see Citibank icon).03-dec-d01.jpg

1Or perhaps to take the sting off the recently shuttered  person-to-person transfer program, though Palmieri declined to comment on C2it.

2CashEdge says that across its entire client base, inbound volume is 70% of the total. But like Citibank, many financial institutions providing free in-bound transfers and charging for outgoing.

3Citi also offers a next-day transfer option priced at $3 for inbound and $10 for outbound, see Table 1, right.


Table 1

Citibank Interbank (A2A) Price Schedule



Transfer Completion Time


Next Day

2 to 3 days

Price per transaction






Transaction limits1
Daily Limit2 $1,000 in
$1,000 out
$2,000 in
$2,000 out
Monthly Limit3 $5,000 total volume (in & out) $10,000 total volume (in & out)

Source: Citibank, 12/8/03

Note: Cut-off times are: Standard: 1 am the following business day;
Next Day: 3 pm; therefore, between 3 pm and 1 am, both choices have similar delivery times, you might gain a day with Next Day.

1) Citibank plans to raise the limits as they get a better handle on
    overall risk and individual customer behavior

2) Not to exceed a total of $4,000 in daily volume across both services

3) Not to exceed a total of $10,000 in monthly volume across both services

Long-term, online interbank transferring is a zero-sum game, every transfer is a deposit gain for one financial institution and a loss for another. However, short-term there are real opportunities to gain deposit share through convenient Web-based transfers. ING Direct  could be a poster child for the service. The only way you can remove funds, and the easiest way to deposit money, is via interbank funds transfer. The lack of ATM or check access hasn’t deterred U.S. consumers from opening more than one million accounts with total deposits of $14.3 billion (as of
Sep. 30, 2003) at the Internet-only bank.             

At ING Direct (USA), interbank and intrabank transfers are handled from the same “Transfer Money” tab.

Categories: Citibank

Citibank Deals with Spoofing on Home Page

By Jim Bruene on September 11, 2003 12:14 PM | Comments


The fake Citibank email (below) fooled so many users that the bank took the unusual step of posting a warning on its home page (screenshot left). Last month, Absa Bank did the same thing, to educate customers about the keylogging security breach at the South African bank.

Fake Citibank email.
(Source: Bankers Online, 8/18/03)

Categories: Citibank, Innovations

Password Procedures at 15 Financial Institutions

By Jim Bruene on April 8, 2003 7:23 PM | Comments

Using our live test accounts, we changed passwords then subsequently “forgot” the new one to test how major financial institutions handle the situation. Overall, most received good marks, although everyone has room for improvement.  



Table 1

Password Scorecard

Safe Practices




Use a third password or challenge question




Disable Internet Explorer AutoComplete




Require 4 or more characters in passwords




Bank determines username




Require more than account number and social security number for online password reset




Send confirmation of password change to email address




Send confirmation of online password reset to email address




Send confirmation of password reset to mail address




Allow more than 3, but less than 11 unsuccessful password attempts*




Warn users in advance of account lockup




Source: Online Banking Report, 4/03
*We believe users should have at least 5 login attempts, with clear instructions before and after lockout


Testing process

1. Login with existing username and password

2. Change password or username

3. Logout

4. Use online password reset if available

5. Attempt to log back in 10 times with an incorrect password



American Express


Password Scorecard

Grade: Needs improvement

(1) Browser AutoComplete function not disabled
(2) No email confirmation of password change
(3) Account lockout too quickly, after third login try

Password structure: User defined, 6 to 8 characters with at least 1 letter and 1 number

Username structure: 5 to 20 characters with
at least 1 letter

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: No

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Online password reset: Yes, with card number, 4-digit card ID (on face of card), work phone number, last 4 digits of soc, and 5-digit zip code

Account lockout with excessive login attempts: Yes, after third attempt; red warning issued after attempt two

Online username retrieval: Depends, certain accounts can retrieve their username online, others must call; we were in the latter group so could not test this feature

AutoComplete is not disabled on the login screen.

User friendly: American Express warns users after their second unsuccessful login that they will be locked out after one more attempt.

Password reset, step 1: Enter userid, card number, and 4-digit code from back.

Password reset, step 2:
Enter personal info for authentication.


Bank of America Credit Card


Password Scorecard

Grade: Good

Weakness: No email confirmation of password change

Username structure: User defined, 9 to 20 numbers

Password structure: 4 to 7 characters; cannot repeat 4 or more in same sequence as username; cannot be same character repeated

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: No, must call

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after 4 attempts; help section carries clear warning

Online username retrieval: No

BofA provides a helpful popup screen with each unsuccessful password attempt.






Centura Bank


Password Scorecard

Grade: Fair

(1) No email confirmation of password change
(2) No warning of account lockout
(3) No customer service link or HELP available from login screen

Username structure: Social security number (with dashes)

Password structure: 6 to 15 characters

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Password change: Online with old password; but neglected to provide an on-screen confirmation that the change occurred, an annoying usability flaw

Online password reset: No, must call; password sent via postal mail

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after sixth unsuccessful attempt; no prior warning

Online username retrieval: Unnecessary (SSN)

Centura had the best login screen “security look and feel.” It also provides a link to disclosures, but not a single mention of customer service or online help, even after making an unsuccessful login attempt. Evidently the bank’s lawyers have been through the site, but where’s customer service?


Charter One Bank


Password Scorecard

Grade: Needs improvement


(1) Browser AutoComplete not disabled

(2) No email confirmation of password change
(3) No warning prior to account lockout
(4) No message after account lockout

(5) A bit too easy to gain read-only account access for new users; requires account number and social security number. However there is a crucial safeguard for bill payment which requires mother’s maiden name, date of birth, home phone number, and a 2-day waiting period.

Username structure: Social security number

Password structure: Must be at least 6 characters

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: No

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: No, must call

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, not sure when it happens, sometime before the tenth attempt; the bank does not provide a warning of impending lockout, nor does it let you know after you’ve been locked out, you only receive a cryptic
error message.

Online username retrieval: Unnecessary (SSN)


AutoComplete has not been disabled
at account login.


New users enroll with social security number and account number. Note the excellent use of security graphics during enrollment.


Chase Bank


Password Scorecard

Grade: Good

(1) No email confirmation of password change
(2) No warning of upcoming account lockout
(3) No message after account lockout

Username structure: User defined, must include one number

Password structure: 6 to 10 characters, 1 of which must be a number

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, with name, account type, account number, social security number, and two user selected challenge questions

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, sometime during the first 10 attempts; no warning message and no indication when account is lockout out, a “try again” message just keeps repeating

Online username retrieval: Yes, displayed online after entering name, account type, account number, social security number

Chase is one of the few banks offering online retrieval of forgotten usernames. After correctly entering name, account number, and social security number, the username is displayed. At that point you can login if you know your password. If not, you can retrieve your password online by answering two previously selected challenge questions. This is great from a usability standpoint, but the bank should send a confirmation via email and/or snail mail.

To reset the password, users answer two
previously established challenge questions. 



DeepGreen Bank


Password Scorecard

Grade: Needs improvement


(1) Browser AutoComplete not disabled

(2) No email confirmation of password change

(3) No minimum password length, can be a single letter or the same as the username
(4) No warning before account lockout
(5) No message after account locked out

Username structure: User defined, can be all alpha

Password structure: 1 to 14 characters, can be the same as the username or a single character

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: No

Online password change: Yes, with old password and mother’s maiden name

Online password reset: Yes, with social security number and mother’s maiden name

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, but not sure when because the lockout is not disclosed until the user attempts to login with correct username/password.

Online username retrieval: No, must call, then wait
7 to 10 days to receive in the mail

A common security vulnerability: Failure to disable IE 6’s AutoComplete function.






Password Scorecard

Grade: Needs improvement

(1) AutoComplete not disabled
(2) No email confirmation of password reset, even though it can be reset with info available to an identity thief, SSN and mother’s maiden name
(3) No email or on-screen confirmation of p/w change
(4) No warning before account lockout
(5) No help on login screen for the memory challenged

Username structure: Initially set as social security # (with dashes); can be changed online one time; 8 to 24 characters, not similar to current username, not same as password, not offensive, at least 2 numbers and 2 alphas

Password structure: 8 to 16 characters with at least one number and one letter, not similar to username, not similar to prior password, not the same reading backward and forward

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: No

Password change: Online with old password; no confirmation of the change provided on-screen

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Online password reset: No, must call; new temp password given over the phone after providing SSN, name, address, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after fifth attempt, must call to reactivate; no warning prior to lockout

Online username retrieval: No, must call

Everbank provides no help at login for users that forget username or password, just a lengthy warning written by the lawyers.


First USA Credit Card (Bank One)


Password Scorecard

Grade: Fair

(1) No email confirmation of password/username change or reset; especially important given relative ease of resetting username/password
(2) No warning before account lockout

Username structure: User defined, 7 to 16 characters, case sensitive

Password structure: 7 to 32 characters, case sensitive,  must have at least 1 number, may not use the same letters consecutively, cannot match username or social security number.

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online username change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, with credit card #, social security #, signature panel code, and expiration date

Online username reset: Yes, with credit card number, social security number, signature panel code, and expiration date

Email confirmation of password or username change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts: Yes, locked out after four attempts, no warning given

First USA is the only financial institution tested which allowed usernames to be reset online; nice for usability but a confirmation of the reset should be emailed and/or mailed to the cardholder.


Harris Direct (brokerage)


Password Scorecard

Grade: Good

(1) No email confirmation of password change (thought there is for password reset)
(2) Only 3 login attempts allowed before lockout (but can reset online relatively painlessly)

Username structure: User defined, 6 to 15 characters

Password structure: 6 to 8 characters

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, a new disguised password is emailed after entering username and birth date; the new password is a created from the account holder’s mother maiden name and social security number but is not disclosed in the email, e.g. the first 2 letter of mother’s maiden name plus last 4 digits of social security number.

Email confirmation of password change: No

Email confirmation of password reset: Yes, confirmation also sent via snail mail

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after third attempt, but can be reset online; no warning before lockout

Online username retrieval: No, must call

HarrisDirect allows online reset after your account has been locked out for excessive login attempts. It was the only company which emails a disguised new password when resetting. For good measure, they also mail an identical confirmation.                    




ING Direct


Password Scorecard

Grade: Excellent

Username structure: Account number

Password structure: 4-digit number (called PIN)

Second password/challenge: Yes, one of 5 user-specified questions asked at login (see below)

IE 6 password remember disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Email confirmation of password change: Yes; confirmation also sent via postal mail

Online password reset: No, must call

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
No (not in the first 10 attempts)

Online username retrieval: Unnecessary (acct #)

ING Direct is the only bank we know of using a challenge question at login. In addition to account number and password, one of these five rotating questions must be answered correctly:

  •  first 4 digits of social security number

  •  zip code of mailing address (first 5 digits)

  •  birth year (4 digit)

  •  last 3 digits of social security number

  •  last 4 digits of social security number

We like the concept, but the implementation is weak. By simply refreshing the browser screen, the would-be thief can select which question to answer, one of which is zip code, which is trivial to ascertain. 




Password Scorecard

Grade: Fair

(1) AutoComplete not disabled on the password reset screen (it is disabled on login page)
(2) Username (email address) known to others

Username structure: Email address

Password structure: 8 to 24 characters case sensitive; recommended, but not required that it include upper and lowercase and at least one number or special character

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Varies; yes, on main login screen, no on password reset screen

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, via email; must answer secret question via email link; if unable to access original email account the new password is sent via snail mail

Email confirmation of password change/reset: Yes

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after 10 unsuccessful attempts; a lockout warning appears after the seventh attempt

Online username retrieval: Not necessary since username is equal to email address


PayPal is one of the few financial companies using cookies to automatically insert usernames at login. The company has used this approach since inception, so they must feel that the improved usability more than compensates for the decrease in security.



PayPal’s online password reset process requires the user to have access to the email account registered with the service. If not, users answer one of four authentication questions (top screen) and the password is mailed to a one of the previously confirmed snail mail address (bottom screen).

PayPal explains after the seventh incorrect password attempt that you have 3 more tries before lockout. This is a far more reasonable approach than many banks’ three-strikes-and-you-are-out policy.




Password Scorecard

Grade: Fair

(1) No email confirmation of password change
(2) Account lockout too quickly, after 3 login attempts, but can be reset relatively easily online

Username structure: Account number or social security number

Password structure: 6 to 8 characters including at least one number BETWEEN the first and last characters; cannot match or be a subset of username

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, in one of two ways;
(a) If logging in with account number, you must provide social security number, date of birth, home phone number, and correctly pick a security in your account from a list of 10 choices including “none of the above”
(b) If logging in with a social security number, you must only provide the answer to the secret question.

Can also reset via automated phone system.

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after 3 attempts; no warning prior to lockout

Online username retrieval: Not necessary (acct. # or soc. #)

Schwab’s unique password reset process requires the usual social security #, birth date, and telephone, plus users must correctly choose one of ten securities in the portfolio (including “none of the above”).          



US Bank


Password Scorecard

Grade: Good

Weakness: No email confirmation of password change

Username structure: User defined, 8 to 24 characters

Password structure: 8 to 24 characters

Second password/challenge: No

IE AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, with ATM card number and ATM PIN; new password displayed online

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after 6 attempts; can reset online or wait 24 hours; no prior warning

Online username retrieval: No, must call

Password change screen. Note the prominent placement of what happens next.


Forgotten password can be reset online with
ATM card number and PIN.


Wells Fargo


Password Scorecard

Grade: Good

(1) No email confirmation of password change
(2) Account lockout too soon, after 3rd login try

Username structure: Social security number

Password structure: 5 to 8 characters

Second password/challenge: No

IE 6 AutoComplete disabled: Yes

Online password change: Yes, with old password

Online password reset: Yes, with statement account number and ATM PIN; those without an ATM PIN are directed to call customer service.

Email confirmation of password change/reset: No

Account lockout with excessive login attempts:
Yes, after 3 attempts; user redirected to online password reset page; no prior warning

Online username retrieval: Unnecessary (SSN)

Wells offers six options for where to go
immediately after login.

After three unsuccessful login attempts users are directed to reset their password, which can be done online with account number and PIN.    


Citibank’s Wall Street Journal Giveaway

By Jim Bruene on August 8, 2002 6:29 PM | Comments

Citibank has one of the richest online promotions going. New regular checking customers earn a 1-year free subscription to The Wall Street Journal (normally $175) with a $2,500 deposit and after making two online bill payments within 60 days. The offer expires
Dec. 31, 2002. The bill payment requirement is an interesting twist that provides a double benefit: it motivates customers to start using their new account and it cuts down on those just signing up for the freebie.

Consider a similar promotion with your local daily. It makes a valuable premium and you may be able to negotiate free print advertising as well. Most periodical publishers are facing revenue shortfalls in both advertising sales and paid subscribers. A bank giveaway could be well received and well promoted.

Separately, Citibank is about to launch a completely revamped home page with new navigation. It’s a big improvement on its current design . Based on the preview posted online, the site makeover will incorporate most current design conventions including search and browse, an upper-right customer login, and so on. To view a Flash demo of the new interface, visit Citi’s current home page,  and click on the banner on the top of the page).        


Categories: Citibank

Citibank Encourages Cardholders to Go Paperless

By Jim Bruene on January 6, 2002 7:11 PM | Comments

One of the more important goals of bill presentment is the elimination of paper statements. However, most businesses cannot simply stop sending paper because many customers aren’t Internet-enabled by choice or circumstance. Most companies will have to either prod customers to shut off the paper or provide financial incentive. Since prodding is cheaper, that will be the first step for most billers.

As shown at left, Citibank greets new registrants to its Cardholder Central account management site with a message  encouraging the use of convenient email notifications instead of paper. It seems to be working. Citi has convinced more than 5% (330,000) of 6 million registered users to give up their paper statement. At $0.50 per statement, assuming all were receiving monthly statements, that’s a cool $2 million saved. Not a bad ROI for this single screen.

Categories: Citibank

Free Virus Protection from Citibank

By Jim Bruene on August 9, 2001 9:17 AM | Comments

Citibank is pitching a free virus protection plan to its credit card customers. We saw it mentioned in a message on the August 2001 Citibank AAdvantage Business Card statement,  The free plan, from PromiseMark, includes:

  •          McAfee VirusScan software, including a full year of software updates
  •          Virus damage repair at one of 7,000 service centers nationwide
  •          Technical Virus Support online and phone
  •          VIRUS-911 Alerts sent via email, cell phone, pager, or PDA on severe new viruses
  •          Internet Protection Center with anti-virus tools and resources

At signup, you can choose to upgrade to one of two premium plans, one for $14.99/yr and the other at $29.99/yr that add local service and other benefits..

Categories: Citibank

Citi Getting Closer to Launching its WingspanBank

By Jim Bruene on August 9, 1999 9:50 AM | Comments

Citi f/i

Citibank’s Financial Interactive Network.

Citibank (New York; $690 billion) is getting closer to launching its WingspanBank. The new Citi f/i site is active, but is more of a placeholder than a legitimate virtual bank. There isn’t even an online application. Users are asked to download and print an account application or call various toll-free numbers.

We are not sure what Citibank hops to accomplish by making this site viewable to the general public. We know it’s a pre-launch “beta” site, but the average prospect, or journalist, that happens across it won’t realize it’s a work in progress. The bank should slap a password in front of it so only legitimate test accounts can get through. We’ll analyze it thoroughly when it’s finished. One think we can say, the name is cool, at least compared to Wingspan(ban)k.

Contact: Norm Bloomberg is SVP, (312) 627-5248.

Categories: Citibank, Wingspan Bank

Citibank at 1 million Payments Per Month

By Jim Bruene on March 11, 1999 3:45 PM | Comments


Norm Bloomberg, VP
500 W. Madison
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 627-5248

Electronic Bill Pay Volume: Citibank isn’t saying, but we estimate 1 million payments per month (plus or minus 33%).

Status Report: Citibank processes bill payments for its own 400,000+ Direct Access base, plus its sole licensee BankBoston (formerly BayBanks) with 250,000+ users.
In discussion with two corporate clients to develop BIPS protocol based on business-to-business payment over the Internet.

Bill Presentment Plans: Not entirely disclosed, but will certainly leverage its ownership position in Transpoint (p. 14), a portal deal with Netscape, and its new direct bank, eCiti.

Categories: Citibank

CitiBank Homepage Tries Lone Product Pitch

By Jim Bruene on July 6, 1998 8:21 AM | Comments



Citibank’s home page is gorgeous, although Elton John would seem to be the primary beneficiary of the sales opportunities on page one. The lone product pitch, located in the lower area of the screen, is for a Platinum Select MasterCard with 4.9% introductory rate.

Citibank (New York; $334 billion, 4.8 million ATM cards) launched an aggressive campaign to increase usage of its online banking program, paying new users $25 to try Direct Access (either the direct-dial or Web format). The goal is to reach one million subscribers by year-end, approximately triple its current base estimated by industry sources at 300,000 to 350,000. The company must be counting on heavy enrollment from its credit card base. Citi would only need to get about 3% of its cardholders banking online to reach the goal. Contact: Norm Bloomberg is VP Home Banking, (312) 627-5248.

Categories: Citibank

The Five Largest North American Banks as of March 1998

By Jim Bruene on February 6, 1998 8:22 AM | Comments

Chase Manhattan

Chase Manhattan Bank (New York; $281 billion; 3.6 million ATM cards) has joined the online banking elite, crossing the quarter-million subscriber mark. Here are the five largest North American banks. CIBC (Toronto, Canada; CDN$283 billion; 4.8 million ATM cards) is also nearing the quarter-million threshold, reporting 200,000 users on March 4, 1998.


Source: company reports, industry estimates

(1) For free services, this number of subscribers isn’t particularly meaningful. Number of users is a far better gauge. But of the five, only BankBoston has reported regular users, which are 50-60% of subscribers.

(2) Monthly fee for lowest priced online option. Some charge additional fees for access through Quicken or Money.

(3) Bill pay is optional. The fee is waived at Wells with a $5,000 deposit balance and at Nations and BankBoston with premium checking accts. Additional transaction fees may apply for heavy users.


Financial Institution Milestones -- Citibank Adds Dial-Up Banking

By Jim Bruene on May 20, 1997 8:12 AM | Comments


Citibank UK (London) added dial-up PC banking to its menu of services. Last year the bank launched Citibank on the Psion. Following the lead of its U.S. parent, the UK version of Direct Access carries no fees.

In other news, Citibank (New York, NY; $281 billion; 4.8 million ATM cards) and VeriFone (soon to be part of Hewlett-Packard) will distribute VeriFone’s Personal ATM to customers participating in the upcoming NYC smart card pilot. The device will download value into a smart card over a standard phone line.

Contacts: Henry Lichstein, is VP Smart Card Development at Citibank, 212.559.1000. Thomas Kilcoyne is VP/GM Consumer Systems at VeriFone, 415.617.8000.

Categories: Citibank

Banking Delivery Channel Strategy - ATMs and Beyond

By Jim Bruene on March 5, 1997 11:06 AM | Comments

In June 1995 Santos and Peffers published an academic study1 of the evolution of ATMs which showed that “early adopters” (those who deployed ATM technology before 1979) tended to gain substantial market share due to their bold investments. The same study showed that once ATM technology became widespread, it no longer provided banks with an obvious competitive advantage. Instead, ATMs became a strategic necessity—that is, they became a necessary condition for survival, not a money-making differentiator.

Let’s look at Citibank. From 1977 to 1988, the bank increased its market share in New York city from 4% to 13.4%. Most analysts agree that the ATM was a significant driver of that growth. During that period, ATMs served as a competitive advantage for Citibank. Today, however, no bank would expect to increase its market share by launching ATM access. In fact, most customers have grown to expect ATMs to be one of their banking options. That’s because ATMs have become a strategic necessity.

What will be the ATM of tomorrow? Which technologies will provide banks a temporary competitive advantage? Which will become strategic necessities? There are a wealth of new delivery channels on the horizon, and most bank managers are busy trying to determine which ones to embrace. If the history of ATMs is a good predictor for the evolution of other banking delivery channels, banks will profit from devoting more resources to understanding emerging technologies—and deploying them quickly. Let’s review some of the key delivery channels banks are using and talking about today:

1. BRANCHES: Many customers continue to flock—and probably always will—to this traditional banking delivery channel. Only a few banks nationwide have rid themselves of bricks and mortar.

2. ATMS: ATMs have evolved as the primary delivery channel for cash withdrawals. They are continuously being enhanced with foreign language, touch-screen, advanced transaction, video conferencing, and related capabilities. This channel is likely to continue to be an important one for most banks.

3. PHONE BANKING: With low set-up costs for banks, phone banking is another delivery channel that’s taken hold recently. Telecommunication companies and call centers now offer sophisticated voice response and video telephone services which increase functionality for bankers who prefer to contact their banks from home.

4. KIOSKS: Video kiosks give customers a direct connection to the most appropriate service agents. Although currently most don’t link directly to a customer’s records, this functionality is expected in the near future. At that time, banking kiosks will become enhanced ATMs.

5. PC BANKING THROUGH PERSONAL FINANCIAL SOFTWARE: Quicken, Microsoft Money, Managing Your Money, and related programs are a familiar delivery channel to many customers. These personal financial software companies offer direct links to many large banks. Some banks reject this delivery channel because they believe customers will transfer their loyalty to the software company, not the bank.

6. PC BANKING THROUGH PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE: PC, or dial-up banking, is sometimes offered through a bank's proprietary software system. Such systems are generally considered more secure than “open” systems. Their primary drawback is that they require the bank and/or its technology provider to issue and maintain the software program and its upgrades.

7. INTERNET BANKING: Today, talking about Internet banking seems to be the rage. Analysts predict it will grow by roughly 150% annually over the next four years. However, fewer than 75 banks currently offer true Internet banking. Most analysts agree that Internet banking will surpass PC banking within the next year or two—and that by 2000, there will be twice as many Internet bankers as people using dial-up programs.

8. COMMERCIAL ONLINE SERVICE BANKING: Online services such as America Online are becoming an increasingly important delivery channel for some banks. Some computer users prefer commercial online services because they find them easier to use and because they think they’re more secure than direct Internet connections.

9. INTERACTIVE TV: TV banking is currently being sampled in various test markets. According to Frost and Sullivan, today’s $545 million interactive TV market is primarily pay-per-view services. Some analysts believe it will grow to compete with the Internet (both for functionality and market share) with a market size of $12.9 billion by 2002. If interactive TV takes off with added functionality, TV banking is likely to be an important delivery channel.

10. SMART CARDS / E-CASH: Although they won’t offer all the functionality of the delivery channels outlined above, experts believe smart cards and e-cash will replace cash for certain purchases. Business Communications Co. predicts that the number of smart cards in use will grow from nearly 5 million today to more than 103 million in 2001. If this happens, banks will want to be positioned to deliver money through these innovative channels.

I sympathize with bank technology managers who are forced to grapple with this diversity of delivery channels. Each delivery channel has its own strengths and weaknesses. And each has a viable chance of becoming the next ATM. So, what should the bank technology manager do?

In his 1513 writing Il Principe, Niccolo Machiavelli said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” But such leadership—particularly in delivery channel technology—is what allows a bank to build or defend its strategic position.

When the future is highly uncertain, and the risk of being unprepared for the future is large, smart businesses find ways to prepare for any future they can anticipate. Banks who choose not to be early adopters must position themselves so they can deploy new technologies quickly enough that they won’t lose their existing customers.

Don’t build your company’s architecture for today's delivery channel; instead, make it flexible enough to incorporate tomorrow’s. Think about all the delivery channels your customers might demand in the future—and build a system that will allow you to deploy those channels quickly, effectively, and securely.

Categories: ATMs, Kiosks, Citibank

Top Web-Based Financial Services Launched in 1996

By Jim Bruene on January 6, 1997 11:32 AM | Comments

The Web dominated the news throughout 1996. As well it should have. We completely agree with David Weisman of Forrester Research that the Internet is the fourth channel for delivering financial services. Joining in-person, mail and telephone channels as an essential part of every financial institution’s marketing and delivery mix.

The following chart summarizes what we think were the year’s most significant developments in Web banking. From Liberty Financial’s WebSaver annuity to Carolina First’s newest division, Atlanta Internet Bank, these new products, services, and strategies provide a glimpse of how the fourth channel will be leveraged in the future.

Top Story
Top honors go to APL Federal Credit Union (Laurel, MD; $97 million) which in July used Digital Insight’s turnkey Web services to become the fifteenth financial institution in the world to offer online account access. Why is that so significant? APL has only 8,000 members! Yet, because Web-based services can be implemented so inexpensively, APL was able to beat giants such as Citibank, Chase, and Nations to the market with Web-based checking account access.


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