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Citigroup sees Asian firms like Ant Financial setting the pace

For Citigroup Inc, the future of finance might be happening already in Asia.

[NEW YORK] For Citigroup Inc, the future of finance might be happening already in Asia.

The New York-based bank is seeking to use technology popularised in Asia - such as mobile payments and credit pre-approvals - as a road map for its own digital efforts around the world, said consumer banking chief Stephen Bird. He singled out Ant Financial, whose Alipay is one of the most popular mobile payment apps in China.

In Asia, "the fastest-growing financial-services providers such as Ant Financial created a full ecosystem within which you organise your financial life," Mr Bird said on Wednesday at a financial technology conference hosted by CB Insights in New York. "We're using the Far East as a clarion call as to where it's all going."

Citigroup has been building out its mobile app in the US as it seeks to capture more banking business from credit-card customers. For example, it offers additional card rewards to customers who open checking accounts. The bank has held sessions inviting customers around the world to help it improve the app, Mr Bird said.

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Citigroup isn't counting out the power of America's technology giants. "Big Tech is coming for banking - for sure," Mr Bird said.

While the firm recently walked away from a credit-card partnership with Apple Inc, it doesn't underestimate the impact Apple's foray into finance could have on its business, Bird said.

"Is it possible in the future that we look back and say ‘We wish we'd been there'? It's entirely possible," Mr Bird said.

"Given who we are as the world's largest credit-card issuer, you would expect us to be at the table with all of the Big Tech guys. Now when we do it we look at: Is it a value proposition that is new and different from what we have? Is it going to add something significant to our portfolio?"

"It's about priorities," he said. "I can't do everything."