Citi Turns 200: Focus shifts to retail banking
September 07, 2012 09:00 AM
In celebration of Citigroup's 200th Anniversary, we are sharing stories from our rich history here on this blog. The 25th installation below covers how business focus shifted to retail banking and how the ATM impacted the consumer experience. Read the 24th installment on how National City Bank nurtured a client relationship to last over a century, here.
Focus shifts to retail banking
The business is transformed as consumer banking becomes a priority, and the ATM delivers 24-hour service
In 1974, John Reed became head of the new Consumer Services Group. Believing that consumer banking would become a core business, he outlined a long-term vision. "We are creating something new," he wrote in 1976. "I refer to a fundamentally new business starting with a dedication to the consumer, and to the proposition that we can offer a set of services that will substantially satisfy a family's financial needs under terms and conditions that will earn the shareholders an adequate profit while creating a healthy, positive and straightforward relationship with the customer." Written on vacation, this document became known in Citicorp annals as the "Memo from the Beach."
"Working in the consumer bank in the early years was like a political campaign internally, particular at the beginning," recalled Pam Flaherty, who, in 1973, as assistant to international banking chief George Vojta, had accompanied Reed on a six-month trip identifying promising consumer markets abroad. "It was a real sense of mission, a sense of ... creating a new kind of business that was really going to benefit the customer." Another strand in Reed's thinking proved very important in later decades: "One of the key thought processes around the consumer bank was called success transfer. The idea was that we would identify ideas and products in one business in one geography and transmit them to another. The most ubiquitous was the automatic teller machine, or ATM."
"At the time, there were no customer-friendly ATMs available and only limited capability of developing the fully trustworthy online interactive computer system which was necessary to run them," Reed said. Citicorp tried unsuccessfully to procure supplies. "So we built our own hardware, wrote our own software and introduced the system. Our first was to introduce a complete system for the City of New York."
The ATM was launched at a branch in Queens in 1977. By the end of that year, all the bank's New York branches would have at least two machines operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "From the beginning, John Reed insisted that there would be two ATMs in every place," Pam Flaherty said. "People thought this was ridiculous as it vastly increased the costs. His view was that machines are not infallible and our promise is 24 hours a day."
This commitment was the origin of the slogan "Citi never sleeps," which dates back to that era.