Citigroup Sees Entertainment and Banking as One

NEW YORK (03/03/2000) - In its widening e-commerce efforts, Citigroup Inc. is casting off the stodgy banker image in favor of an entertainment approach to draw a big crowd on the Web.

To do that, Citigroup has brought in a cast of young hotshots with new media entertainment experience to direct its online and wireless banking activities.

Take Larry Rubin, for example. A former executive with media giant Viacom, Rubin was hired a month ago to be Citigroup's "vice president for new e-business" at the Citigroup Web site, finance.com.

Though he has no banking experience, Rubin is in charge of transforming how Citibank, the Citigroup banking subsidiary, will interact with the public for e-commerce purposes. Citibank already has online retail banking, but Rubin says he has many new ideas, such as alerting Citibank customers on their cell phones for financial transactions.

"You didn't pay your real estate taxes for the month. Do you want us to take it out of your account or can I make a loan to you? The cell phone can deliver that message to you," Rubin said during his presentation at last week's Gartner Group Internet and Electronic Commerce conference here.

Rubin says an e-commerce effort branded as citif/i is under way to provide a new array of online financial services that will include offerings not only from Citibank, but also from brokerage houses, competing mortgage firms and insurance companies.

"At finance.com, it's an agnostic play," Rubin says, with "agnostic" being the favorite term now for an online business presenting competing products in a nonpreferential atmosphere.

"I don't want you to think I'm from a bank. I'm bringing you something different," Rubin declares. "Financial services is different from entertainment, but it is entertainment."

He adds his favorite digital age saying: "Revolutionary times mean e-rational behavior."

George Barto, senior analyst at Gartner Group, a consultancy in Stamford, Conn., points out that Rubin is but one among a cadre of new-media and entertainment-industry hotshots Citigroup has hired to chart its e-commerce future.

Whether it's the right move at the right time remains to be seen, but many analysts believe that the banking industry's traditional grip on customers' accounts and payments is threatened by the Web.

Avivah Litan, Gartner Group's research director for online bill payment and presentment, says banks face the threat of losing their customer bases as nonbanks intercede on the Web to provide bill-payment services.

"In fact, banks are losing this market," Litan remarked last week, adding that research suggests that neither the biller nor the bill payer really care whether their traditional bank or another service provider manages this online billing. It's low price and convenience that will win in the end, he said.

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