Subscribing to Sustained Innovation

Subscription models reflect a future of customer listening and innovative collaboration

In a world full of seemingly rapid-fire change, it is often slow change that brings about the most paradigm-altering transformations, says Vanessa Colella, Chief Innovation Officer at Citi and Head of Citi Ventures.

Vanessa Colella

Vanessa Colella,
Chief Innovation
Officer at Citi and
Head of Citi Ventures

There is no silver bullet when it comes to innovation.


“The only constant today is change. In order to be successful, we need to stay ahead of the trends impacting not only financial services but those of our clients. Successful innovation will not reside in one place but rather will be embedded across the entire organization.

I believe that it’s important to track not only the technological but the behavioural and structural changes that are happening around us in order to stay ahead of the curve.”

Vanessa Colella
Chief Innovation
Officer at Citi and
Head of Citi Ventures

The world is changing for us, and it’s changing for our clients. One way to build trust around innovation is to be more open.

“You can’t predict clients’ evolving needs and challenges without an open dialogue. When we have an idea about how we can better meet our clients’ needs, rather than assuming we are correct we go out and talk to them, test with them in order to validate our ideas (or pivot to a new idea!).

At Citi, we employ several dozen former entrepreneurs through a program called D10X to help coach our teams through this process and to work with clients in a very open and collaborative way to test, refine and launch products.

This program was predicated on the idea that, yes, entrepreneurs have great ideas about how to change the world, but so do many of our 200,000 employees. D10X is a way to put guard rails around innovation, helping us to understand what works, what doesn’t and how we can continuously improve our products and services in real time. Now, we’ve vetted close to a thousand of those ideas to help better serve our clients.

This is just one example of how innovation is increasingly embedded within our business.”

Companies today are not trying to be retailers or to be banks; they are trying broadly to meet their clients’ needs.

“When we look at investing, we don’t just think about fintech and payments. We think about data, machine learning, cybersecurity and customer experience— both the client-facing innovations as well as the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that allows us to serve those clients better. We believe that developing that ecosystem is critical for our success.

We see this innovative movement, whether it’s by our direct or traditional competitors, by Citi or by fintech players, as extremely positive. It’s indicative of the fact that people from all sorts of companies are recognizing that client needs are changing and that’s a net positive across the industry.”

In prior generations, the leaders of companies got to where they were because they knew the answers.

Today, the people who are best placed to lead are those that ask the right questions and listen for the answers. “Today’s leaders come from a wide variety of diverse professional backgrounds.

We’re interested in attracting computer scientists, data scientists, political scientists, designers—people who have the skills that are critical to pushing boundaries but may not have ever thought of themselves as working at a bank. Success in the long-term won’t just be about the integration of new technologies, but the integration of a whole new generation of talent and perspective that allows us to thrive in an increasingly competitive, changing environment.”

Subscription models are predicated on the fact that we now live in a completely wired world.

“With 127 new devices connected to the internet every second, you can imagine that the earth is now blanketed in a very heterogenous network of different devices, all connected together. This is one of the biggest enablers of new business models like subscriptions.

In this hyper-connected and data-driven world, I often talk about what we call banking at the edge. You hear a lot these days about advances in edge computing—self-driving cars are the most common example. There’s not enough bandwidth on the planet for a car to phone back to a central server every time it needs to stop at a stop sign, so it has to compute the decision for itself.

By applying edge computing principles to banking, transactions are increasingly staying out of the network as opposed to coming back to a central place. These transactions, which are often high volume, low value, have implications for not only our infrastructure, policies and business model, but for our clients as well.”

“In this hyperconnected world of “always on” consumers and supply chains, I think of a phenomenon called banking at the edge.”

Part of why our clients trust us is that we spend an enormous amount of time and energy on what’s called ‘know your customer’ or KYC.

“How do we use data and information to make the customer experience better? We’re investing in a variety of techniques. We not only consider the underlying technology that can help, but the behavioral and societal trends that are driving changes in client interactions.

For example, in a world where people are hung up on cybersecurity, there are many criminals out there that focus on pedestrian channels like the telephone. We’re investors in a Canadian company called Trulioo, which helps focus on instant verification for more than five billion people on the planet.

We’re also investors in a company that came out of Georgia Tech call Pindrop. They figured out a way to use over 150 different attributes of a phone call to ensure that, when you call us, we can very quickly and seamlessly have a good understanding of whether you’re calling from your phone.

With the growth of nested devices, KYC is going to be complemented by what we call ‘know your machine’ or KYM, because those devices are increasingly able to transact on their own. Being able to authenticate and identify devices is actually more complicated – but also critical for the future. They’re far more heterogenous than people and, where there’s a natural limit to the growth of the number of people on the planet, there’s an almost infinite array of devices.”