Linda Duncombe: Citi's "fintegration" in the ever-changing fintech landscape

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Linda Dunscombe headshotAn interview with Linda Duncombe, Managing Director and Head of Growth, Chief Marketing Officer at Citi FinTech

What’s your transition been like from Australia to New York City?

In many ways, my transition from Australia to New York City to work with Citi FinTech has been a dream come true and a treasured professional achievement. When I was with Citi Australia, I led a team of some of the most talented people I have ever had the privilege to work with. Now I’m based in New York and excited to be a leader within Citi FinTech, but that was a scary step that I almost didn’t take – which would have been a major regret. I would have missed the chance to try something new, to take on bigger challenges and drive meaningful change with another group of inspiring peers. Choosing to make the move and become part of Citi FinTech’s leadership team was absolutely the right decision. I never want to think “what if?”.

How has this move changed your network and profile?

There are so many surprising similarities between Australia and America that sometimes I feel like I’m just visiting my favorite cousins! Starting fresh in a new city was daunting at first, but I’ve received tremendous support from my friends and colleagues. I’ve found that actively engaging in networking has been a very positive and enjoyable experience. Through my role with Citi, I’ve met some incredible people not just in New York but across the country and around the world. It’s exciting to meet innovators and business leaders who want to have a conversation about what Citi FinTech is doing and how the industry is transforming.

I think it’s exciting that Citibank has dedicated your whole group just to FinTech, where so many other banks are still resisting, it seems.

Citi is a global organization with a 200-year legacy of innovation. Every day we are thinking about what it means to be forward-compatible so we can be ready to serve our customers wherever they want to go. Our clients are always online, and we want to make sure that we’re there when they need us.
Two years ago Stephen Bird, CEO of Citi’s global consumer bank, created Citi FinTech as a standalone unit to focus on the future of banking and to be the tip of the innovation spear. One of the ways we innovate is through “fintegration”, which means we look across the industry to source the best FinTech solutions for our customers and integrate them into our offerings. We have encountered some extraordinary companies and are exploring how we can collaborate to solve the most pressing issues that our customers face in their financial lives. We don’t have all the answers, nor do we pretend to. This is important and is differentiating us in the market.

As the leader in the Citi Global Consumer Bank’s effort to “Fintegrate”, how do you keep up with the rapidly changing FinTech landscape and keep Citi moving in the right direction?

I think it’s important to be open to all innovation, not just what’s happening in FinTech. Ideas can come from unlikely places and I might find an innovation in retail or travel or entertainment that has a potential application for our bank customers.
Our recent Tech for Integrity Challenge invited technology innovators from around the world to create cutting-edge solutions to promote integrity, accountability and transparency. This was a fantastic opportunity to partner with our colleagues across the bank and explore solutions from companies of all sizes that could benefit customers, governments and communities worldwide.
Our Open Banking team is constantly out in the market at tech events talking about Citi’s Developer Hub and our APIs, and that’s helping us build our relationships with individual developers and companies. It’s yet another example of how we’re exploring new innovations that might benefit our customers.

How should firms be leveraging automation? What are the biggest challenges with implementing automation?

With digital platforms, some of yesterday’s marketing challenges have disappeared. Now it’s easier to track performance and illustrate the value that marketing yields for our organization. I can tell where a potential customer came from and how many clicks it took them to download our app, and we can leverage that data to create tailored messaging and experiences.
Today our challenge is that we’re competing for customers’ mindshare. How do we say something that will really resonate and stand out from the mass of information they see all day every day? How do we build trust and tell positive stories that our customers will want to share with their networks? 

How does compliance play into this?

Partnership with Compliance and other governance teams is a key part of how we co-create solutions with and for our customers. We hear the term “disruption” all the time in the industry, but disruption isn’t something our customers want from us.  They don’t want us to skip steps or create problems that might disrupt our customers’ lives.  Our relationship with our customers is all about building trust and we take this very seriously. This is why compliance and governance need to be part of our creative process.
We are co-located with our compliance team and they participate in our marketing brainstorming and planning meetings from the beginning. This saves us time and money, but it also enhances our story-telling right from the start. Teaming up with our governance team is fundamental; it’s an absolute priority that we protect our customers’ data and money.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in digital marketing/social media marketing in financial services?

There are some startling statistics in the digital space right now. To share one that comes to mind: according to Google, 53% of users abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. That speaks to one of the fundamental expectations of our customers: 3 seconds is too long to wait.
The transformation in entertainment and communication channels has been really interesting. Instead of being locked in to cable packages, there’s now more power in the customers’ hands to decide where and how they’d like to consume media and whether they want to pay a little more to skip commercials. It’s similar to how messaging apps have disrupted old phone plans that charged you extra for SMS. I’m fascinated by how these platforms will be monetized, and how they’re changing the way we communicate with one another.

What’s the key to giving customers the best possible digital experience?

Simplicity and personalization are crucial. We are charged with protecting people’s money and data. We aim to get the fundamentals right, to build trust with our customers, and to make experiences as easy as possible. But easy doesn’t always mean one click. For example, we’ve found consumers do want the peace-of-mind that comes from extra clicks in situations like a large money transfer. This is a good illustration of simplicity and security driving the best possible digital experience. And it’s also important that we use the data we have to create meaningful, personalized experiences.

With all of the emerging technology and financial data, what are some things sales and marketing can do to best align and be successful? (Sales enablement)

At Citi, marketing and sales are closely connected. Our goals are aligned to ensure we’re doing the right thing for our customers. Before I was at Citi, I was a salesperson and I would sometimes get frustrated with the marketing messages because they weren’t resonating with our customers. Now I understand the importance of customer input in both areas to ground our decisions.

Where do you do most of your reading?

I vary the format of my reading with the content and location. My daily news consumption is on mobile. Every morning I have a quick look at the newsfeeds on my phone to see what’s trending, particularly on YouTube. I keep an eye on the news via my phone throughout each day. But in those moments where I can unplug – like on an airplane – I like to read an old-fashioned book. I find it very relaxing.

Where do you find customers like to read most? Do they show a preference for video, text or podcasts?

Our customers prefer consuming content on mobile in snackable formats – quick information on what’s happening and what’s trending. When they want to know more, and they want to be educated, YouTube is very popular. I still find that word of mouth is incredibly powerful though it’s evolved from what you learn over a cup of coffee with a friend, to what influencers or friends are saying on your messaging apps and social channels.

I understand financial education is important to you. How do you think the industry is doing in improving financial literacy? What can the industry to do improve?

At Citi, we are continually looking to explore and find ways to help our clients have an easy way to understand our products and services. It’s about getting back to the basics and making it simple so banking becomes more accessible for everybody.

What’s your experience been like in this notoriously male dominated industry?

I’ve been very fortunate to work in a company that insists on diversity because we want to have an employee base that reflects our customer base. I think when we talk about promoting women in our industry we must include men in the conversation. We need to be telling stories and sharing experiences with people who may not have faced the same challenges. 

What advice do you have for other women interested in making financial services a career?

I would first ask them why they want to be in financial services. If it’s because they think they could make a lot of money, that’s not a good enough reason. Is it because they have a passion? Whatever they say, there has to be enthusiasm and energy. My advice would be, stay true to yourself. I genuinely am proud of what I do. I want to make the lives of our clients easier and I feel very honored and privileged to have that opportunity, especially when banking can be overwhelming for some people. Right now I want to make sure that my team is enjoying what they’re doing, and that they understand that we are making a difference.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’m fixated on this subject, but I love to eat in America and in New York, everything’s open 24/7. The energy is amazing – I love it. I love eating out, whether it’s the little hole-in-the-wall, the little road cart on Madison, or a fancy restaurant. I love being out in the city, trying all those different things. I live in the Upper East side between the river and the park and every single morning I go running. I love running, it’s my alone time, my meditation, and it allows for my love of eating so much. Eating out with friends and meeting new people and enjoying all of the culinary diversity of New York is something that I just love.
And secretly, I love to watch America’s Got Talent. I love that TV show.

Thank you Linda.

Linda Duncombe, Managing Director, is the Global Head of Growth and Chief Marketing Officer for Citi FinTech, where she oversees Citi FinTech’s Marketing, Client Experience, Insights and Acceleration. She leads the Citi Design team, a unique function that integrates the Citi FinTech and Consumer organizations to deliver a radically simple, connected digital and mobile experience for Citi’s clients and drives consistent business growth for the Consumer Bank. Additionally, Linda also leads Citi’s global activity for FinTech Acceleration which includes the strategy of expanding our partnership with the developer community.
Prior to joining Citi FinTech Linda was the Global Head of Social, Content and Digital Marketing for the Global Consumer Bank, where Linda was responsible for championing brand consistency and digital acceleration across Citi’s lines of business globally, overseeing the digital partnerships, global acquisition strategy, social media and content marketing efforts.
Prior to her move to the U.S. in 2015, Duncombe served as the Head of Customer Franchise at Citi Australia, where she was instrumental in helping transform the organization into a customer-first business. She oversaw every aspect of the customer experience in the Australia market, including strategy development, data analytics, business learning, complaint resolution, seamless service initiatives and customer communications. In addition, she spearheaded brand development, customer marketing, digital acquisition and servicing – and was responsible for managing Citi’s Australian partnerships and sponsorships portfolio, including the highly regarded Citibank Dining Program.
Prior to joining Citi, Linda spent over 20 years at National Australia Bank, where she worked in Business Banking, Private Banking and Consumer Banking, holding various sales, strategy and marketing roles. With her proven track record in leading people, inspiring performance and driving positive change, Linda has received several industry recognitions, including the Asia Pacific Citibank (APAC) Marketing Award (2012 Q3 and Q4); Annual Marketing Award for the Mobile App, specifically the Dining Program feature (2011); and the Asian Banking Best Internet Banking Award (2011 and 2012).
Connect with Linda Duncombe on LinkedIn. 
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