Banking via mobile phone? Check. Interactive, Apple-iPad style walls? You bet. Robot assistants? Don't push it, pal. Citibank's Innovation Lab isn't that futuristic.
Banking via mobile phone? Check. Interactive, Apple-iPad style walls? You bet. Robot assistants? Don't push it, pal. Citibank's Innovation Lab -- which the company calls the bank of the future -- isn't that futuristic.
As technology evolves, all businesses are trying to keep up, including the banking industry. Ever wonder how we'll get cash and buy stuff in the future? Fox News Channel's cameras were the first to go inside CitiBank's renovated "Innovation Lab" underneath its branch in Midtown Manhattan.
"Our goal is to be a digital bank where customers have access to their financial life in their pockets" said Chris Kay, head of growth ventures for the giant bank. He and chief innovation officer Debby Hopkins are leading CitiBank's initiative to transform transactions.
"We're seeing a historic shift here," Hopkins told FoxNews.com. "The consumer is driving behavior through things like the iPhone and really demanding this kind of experience."
The company wants to create banking on the go, letting a customer start a "conversation" with CitiBank at an ATM and pick it up later on a mobile phone that will know where you left off.
Citi’s Innovation Lab has four main prototypes. All of them are currently up and running in Japan and other parts of Asia, where Citi says customers love the innovations.
1) Your mobile phone is your wallet. Here's how it works: You add your credit card information to your cell phone through an application on the phone (protected by a secure password). When purchasing an item, you open up the credit card app and tap your phone on the machine as payment.
The whole transaction is captured and sent, with your receipt and warranty to -- you guessed it -- your phone. For "Tap and Pay" to work, your phone will have to be enabled with a special antenna, of course. (Nokia has announced plans to build these antennas into all of its phones starting next year.)
Another cool phone feature lets you split a restaurant bill with a friend. A free, peer-to-peer app easily lets you text the amount you owe to your companion's phone. (If they're not already treating you to a meal for being such a nice tech-savvy friend.)
What happens if someone steals your phone? Citi's strict security features immediately shut the device off if it's stolen, the company claims.
2) The interactive media wall. A specially designed wall in Citibank facilities allows customers to see the latest local and world news. It's like a digital poster with promotions in real time, and Citi worked on it with the same firm that designed the iPhone.
"we're knee-deep in everything Apple," said Hopkins. "We're huge believers in their capabilities, approach and philosophy which is creating really strong design but backed by extraordinary systems."
3) The sales wall. Like a giant iPhone that lets you shop for different credit cards or home loans, the sales wall is a massive screen. You flip through products on a large touch screen that works like the "cover flow" feature on iPods. (Think Tom Cruise in Minority Report!) You can either scan the information to your phone or apply right on the screen.
4) The work bench. Looking for a more private banking experience? You want the work bench. It's easy to use, too. In three steps you can find the credit card you want, apply, then print it out. Should you need help, there's a video agent that will talk you through your transaction and give you real personal service.
Is this stuff gonna be too technical for Grandma? And will it eliminate the traditional bank teller job? No worries -- there will always be an option to talk face to face with a real person. Citi wants to keep the experience simple too. Kay said, "we have to make sure we're not just designing for the technology savvy up and comers. So far customers of all ages are finding it accessible."
So when should we expect to see Citi's "Bank of the Future" in mainstream America? Citi says these features should roll out in U.S. banks within the next two years. However, the company just launched a few new applications you can use right now -- and it helps that mobile phones have the ability to know your location is.
CauseWorld is an app that allows you to check into retailers (Starbucks, perhaps?) and get "Karma Points" you can collect and give to a charity of your choice. And Citi Shopper will give you reviews, the best price in your neighborhood, and let you know if a product you want is in stock. The app is available on the iPhone, iPad and soon Android phones.
Taxpayers will surely want to know how much a massive technological initiative like this cost -- especially after hearing that CitiBank received $49 billion in bailout money. Hopkins says we'd be surprised -- the total is under 100 million dollars. "We're a very small team, we're very scrappy. We don't spend huge amounts of money and we partner heavily. We believe collaboration is the way of the future."
Citi doesn't claim to be a technology trendsetter, in spite of everything on display. Hopkins says the company just doesn't think it's too far ahead of the curve. But she's happy with progress. "I think we feel really good about what we're doing."