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Jorge Ruiz: Citi Looks To Build A Global Ecosystem for FinTech

FINEXTRAJorge Ruiz, managing director, Digital Acceleration Global Program Head, Citi sits down with Finextra to talk about the ongoing Citi Mobile Challenge and the development of a global ecosystem for FinTech.

FINEXTRA: Why is Citi investing in the Citi Mobile challenge?

RUIZ: It is not just a question of Citi, it is how the industry is evolving. The financial services industry is moving towards a more digital communication and digital engagement with their clients. This is something that Citi, or any other bank, cannot do on their own. The evolution of this industry is such that FinTech, financial technology is happening all over the world and we need to recognise that. Citi recognises that. We do business in more than 100 countries around the world. We understand what is going on, what is happening in the FinTech space. What we want to do is to be able to create a community that is not just the developers, but also different participants, who will add value to this new way of doing finance and Citi, of course, needs to be part of this.

FINEXTRA: What does the bank get out of it?

RUIZ: Citi is the largest bank in the world in terms of presence and the number of clients. And the way we interact with our clients today is probably not the way we will be interacting in a few years. This is not just Citi, this is the industry as a whole. Citi needs to start working in a more open architecture, not just Citi building for Citi and Citi clients, but also to be part of a larger ecosystem. There are about six to 10 thousand financial technology solutions that have been going on the past few years that have been in the market. We need to incorporate all these solutions into our platforms so we can offer our clients a better way of communicating with us. So we need to evaluate, what is the best out there, so we can integrate with our own technology.

FINEXTRA: So one of the purposes of the challenge is to see what technologies out there can be embedded into Citi?

RUIZ: Yes, it is. But it is actually, how can we add more value to our clients. Engage in a more digital way in our clients’ lifestyle. Again it is bringing the innovation from the outside in and to be part of what is happening in the world. This is not just happening in one place in Silicon Valley or in London or Israel – it is happening everywhere.

With the EMEA programme, we have applicants from 100 countries coming to work with us. That clearly says there is a need for something like Citi to really enable the progress in the digital space.

FINEXTRA: What part do the partners play?

RUIZ: Partners play a role in adding value to the community we are creating. Whether that is more APIs, so developers can use, say Uber’s APIs and match those APIs with ours and get a new solution that will work with our clients and Uber platforms. They can also help to mentor our developers, like IBM. They are running workshops in parallel so we can use whatever technology we can offer. So it really depends what they do, what the partner does and how that partner adds value to this community. It is not just about Citi. It is partners that want to add value to this ecosystem of FinTech – that could be technology companies, investors, it could be accelerators, it could even be financial institutions. Like Hapoalim, the largest Israeli bank is offering their APIs to developers to use them along with ours.

FINEXTRA: Give us some insight into the first Challenges in Latin America and the US?

RUIZ: Many things happen first in Latin America – it is a fantastic region. First we were thinking how can we be more efficient and how can we build new solutions faster than we had been in Latin America. That is how the idea came about. We invited three partners in Latin America and we reached out to the world for new developers to come and work with us. We were able to have 150 applicants for the programme and developers from 19 countries. Out of those we selected 11 winners. We had demo days in Buenos Aires and Bogotá. Now out of these 11 winners we already have one of these solutions live in Columbia, in two months we will have another two solutions live and so on and so forth.

It was so successful that we decided to do the same thing in the US. In the US we had 740 applicants coming from 62 countries. So it quadrupled what we did in Latin America. And we worked with 18 partners. So the community kept going.

That also gave us a good result, with 10 winners. Now they are all under due diligence to be able to launch some pilots in the next coming months. At the end of last month we opened registration for the programme in EMEA. As I said, they are coming from 100 countries, 750 participants – totally amazing – with 66 partners.

As far as I know this is the largest ecosystem, community built around a challenge that has ever been in FinTech.

FINEXTRA: Which one of the past winners did you find the most interesting?

RUIZ: We review, up till now, 1,500 solutions. Out of those 1,500, we already have a portfolio of 21. Out of those 21, we have solutions that will add value to our clients in the consumer space and also the corporate space.

In the consumer space – we launched a solution in Columbia which is a combination of logistics and mobile commerce. Clients in Columbia are able to buy goods from the US, with a mobile app, pay in the local currency, and have the goodS be shipped to their homes. Before that, in Columbia, you had to take a plane to Miami, buy your things, and probably take cash – now we have changed the way they are doing mobile commerce in Columbia. And that is a solution that we can definitely export to other markets.

In the corporate space, we are going to launch one in Guatemala in April –  it is a mobile distributor. Merchants, instead of paying in cash to their distributors can pay through their mobile phone. Not with money they have collected on their phones but with a loan that a local microfinance entity will disburse into their wallet – enabling them to pay to their distributor the money in digital currency.

FINEXTRA: What type of demos do you expect to see in the EMEA challenge?

RUIZ: We are going to have demo days in Nairobi, Jerusalem, Warsaw and London. Those four locations are FinTech hubs – with very different infrastructure, very different needs. So the reasons why they build those solutions will be different.

FINEXTRA: What about FinTech excites you the most right now?

RUIZ: Everything we do in our lives has something to do with a payment, a collection, some sort of money movement. That is FinTech. Whatever connects to you, with a financial transaction, is financial technology. And I think that this industry is one of the oldest industries because it supports businesses to grow. Now this is shifting to a digital arena – there are so many new things that can happen. That is why it is so exciting. You have banks all over the world – doing pretty much the same thing. Some will do it better, like Citi, of course …

FINEXTRA: Is FinTech a way that banks are trying to differentiate themselves?

RUIZ: That is what we are trying to do. Add value to our clients’ lifestyle. A payment is a payment. The difference is One: security. You want to make sure when you reach for your funds it’s secure. Two is how you do it. Three: Are you able to do what you want. The solution I told you about in Columbia, where you pay for goods and want those goods to be shipped to your home – through a payment – yes, a payment is a payment – but is that payments allowing you to do what you want to do? That is the big question. Those are the answers we are looking for when we go out to look for developers with Citi Mobile Challenge.

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