Common Standards, a Superior Experience
An Interview with Hemant Gada, Head of Channel and Enterprise Services, EMEA, Treasury and Trade Solutions, Citi
A key priority for Citi is to offer a seamless, consistent and effective experience to its clients across the entire Citi global network. An important means of achieving this is through efficient, integrated and user-friendly channels between Citi and its clients. In this interview, Helen Sanders, Editor, discusses what this means in practice with Hemant Gada, Head of Channel and Enterprise Services for the EMEA region at Citi.
What are your clients’ major priorities today for bank communication?
Standardisation has been a priority for both our clients and Citi for a number of years, not least due to SEPA. SEPA has introduced new instruments based on ISO XML 20022 formats and prompted greater recognition of both the benefits of standardisation and the opportunities that now exist. For example, we are seeing considerable interest in adopting ISO XML 20022 formats across multiple banking partners and a wider geographic reach to replace diverse, fragmented formats.
To enable coherent information flows across all the countries in which Citi’s multinational clients operate and to help clients reduce costs and increase productivity, Citi is committed to promoting a standardised approach in the way that clients communicate with us. This includes supporting bank-agnostic communication wherever possible, including both the channels and the formats with which we communicate with clients. For example, we are expanding the use of XML across all our channels, including host-to-host, across our entire footprint with an aim to provide global homogenised format.
We recognise that Citi’s global network offers huge benefits to our clients, so we aim to enable them to operate consistently across our footprint. For example, while historically the processes for opening accounts in London, Shanghai or Johannesburg may have been different, we are striving to offer a standard process and format wherever possible whilst ensuring compliance with local regulatory and legal needs.
To what extent are clients able to access these services through a common channel?
Our services are available to clients through a variety of channels, including SWIFT, our host-to-host CitiConnect® offering and our web-based CitiDirect BESM portal. CitiDirect BE is most widely adopted by our clients due to its flexibility and ease of access, with support for both domestic and cross-border payments and a range of other functionality such as account services. Equally we leverage our global CitiConnect offering to allow our clients to connect with us in an automated mode across the entire Citi network.
In addition, Citi is working closely with SAP to create the SAP Financial Services Network (FSN). This is a cloud-based, secure network managed by SAP that enables corporate treasurers and finance managers to connect with their banks directly through their SAP platform, without the need to manage individual bank connections. By leveraging the FSN, corporations are insulated from the idiosyncrasies of each bank’s systems and formats, and bank connectivity becomes seamless.
Why would a company choose to access its banks through the FSN as opposed to using SWIFT AllianceLite 2 or a service bureau?
SWIFT offers considerable opportunity for corporations of all sizes to connect to one or more banks securely and conveniently, and remains a major part of Citi’s channel strategy. For clients that are using SAP as their financial supply chain management platform, however, FSN offers another alternative through pre-configured connectivity to one bank or multiple banks without the need to access a separate service. Companies do not have to deal with different security requirements or formats, or manage integration with each bank. Consequently, although FSN is a proprietary network, it offers clients convenient communication, security and common formats based on CGI guidelines.
We anticipate that FSN will prove very popular with clients using SAP, and consequently, we anticipate that other ERP vendors will offer a similar service in the future.
In addition to streamlining communication between corporations and their banking partners, what other benefits are corporate treasurers seeking from standardised formats?
Corporate treasurers demand timely, accurate and useable data to ensure visibility and control over cash, and to facilitate automated processes. A focus for banks such as Citi over recent years has been to provide information as close to real-time as possible. The second step has been to standardise the way in which this information is presented, in order that clients have access to a consistent quality and richness of information across all accounts and regions. This is essential to digitise processes such as straight-through reconciliation (STR) which is as significant a requirement amongst treasurers and finance managers today as straight-through processing (STP) was in the past.
The increasing focus on standardised processes and information is helping to drive new opportunities such as eBAM [electronic bank account management]. This is an important area of investment for Citi as we recognise the benefit of improving efficiency and control in account management processes that have traditionally been undertaken manually. Corporate treasurers seeking to centralise bank account management, increase process efficiency and achieve greater control over accounts and signatories are very interested in the opportunities presented by eBAM. While we have not yet reached an inflexion point in terms of customer adoption, it is building momentum. As eBAM has such obvious applicability across all banks in all markets, we expect it to become a homogenous, industry-standard solution in due course but in the interim, Citi’s eBAM solution is set to become increasingly popular for automating account management processes and achieving greater visibility and control over accounts.