Citigroup Opens Bank of the Future, Flat Screens and All



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Brad Dinsmore, Citigroup’s head of retail banking in North America, stepped atop a makeshift dais on Thursday and surveyed the throng of bank staffers and junior executives gathered around him.

“What do you think?” he asked, smiling broadly. “It’s a great day!”

Mr. Dinsmore was standing behind a clear acrylic lectern in Citigroup’s new branch, in Union Square; behind him was a wall of 16 flat-screen monitors bearing a giant pixilated Citigroup logo. Standing to the side was Vikram S. Pandit, Citi’s chief executive, who a few minutes later would brandish a giant pair of golden scissors to cut the ribbon to the bank’s sleek new space.

In an effort to bolster its consumer business, Citi is in the midst of a multiyear, multibillion-dollar effort to revamp its branches and open new locations in big cities across the country. The first opened this month at 14th Street and Broadway; several more are planned elsewhere in Manhattan, with others to come in cities including Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But first, a celebration was in store.

As visibly confused customers wandered into the bank to make A.T.M. withdrawals, dozens of Citi staff members and executives turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Passers-by, probably not used to seeing a flock of well-tailored bankers in pinstripe suits milling about in front of a storefront whose closest neighbors are Duane Reade and Shoe Mania, seemed no less perplexed about what was going on.

But despite the commonplace surroundings — a Heineken beer truck, parked outside the glass-walled branch, provided a plebeian backdrop for the event — the bank did not hold back on the glamor. It laid out a red carpet entrance at the entrance, built a coat check by the teller windows and hired a waiter to walk around with a platter of bite-size donuts and a sugary dipping sauce.

Then the Citi executives celebrated the new branch, which was modeled after high-tech branches in Singapore and Hong Kong that were apparently very well received by customers there.

“You all know what’s going on,” Mr. Pandit said. “Through social networking and Facebook and Twitter and mobile phones and Internet technology, it really is a very different world, and consumers and customers want to be served in a very different way.”

He added, “As a matter of fact, they want to be served anywhere, any how that makes their lives convenient, and this is our hub to make that happen. This is a smart bank.”

To accomplish that, Citi, first and foremost, bought many flat-screen televisions.

The new branch features them on seemingly every available surface, including six “interactive sales walls” that take the place of paper brochures. The branch — which has the feel of a chic hotel lobby more than anything else — also features a 24-hour video-chat terminal for customers who happen to find themselves needing assistance from a Citi representative at, say, 4 a.m. on a Saturday.

In their speeches, Mr. Dinsmore, Mr. Pandit and others heaped praise upon the flat-screen televisions; the hopping neighborhood that is the Union Square area; New York City more generally (“the best place in the world to do business,” Mr. Pandit said); and, of course, the bankers at Citigroup, and the stylish new branch that they will staff.

Manuel Medina-Mora, Citi’s chief executive for consumer banking in the Americas, declared that the “iconic” branch would “transform the customer experience” for Citigroup customers. Mr. Dinsmore, for his part, called it “an important step in our journey.”

“We want this branch to be more than just a bank,” Mr. Dinsmore said. “We want this branch to be a place where customers view it as a hub, a center of the community, if you will. A place where they feel warm and welcome, that they can come in and experience our free Wi-Fi access.”

Citi officials declined to discuss the cost of the new branch. At a news conference as part of the ceremony, Mr. Pandit also did not seem inclined to discuss other matters, sidestepping questions about whether Citi would make any changes to its executive compensation practices.

When he was pressed on that matter, Citi officials cut off questions from reporters and instead passed the microphone to a marketing staff member from the bank.

“I just wanted to bring the attention back on this branch,” she said. “Can you touch on our strategy for social media?”

Mr. Pandit responded more favorably to his employee’s query. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I think that’s a really interesting question.”

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


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