Citigroup CFO Mark Mason breaks down the bank’s approach to data and technology projects

The CFO Project: Future of Finance (In Partnership with J.P. Morgan)
Photo of Mark Mason, CFO, Citigroup
Mark Mason, ‘s chief financial officer. Citigroup
  • Citigroup, one of Wall Street’s largest banks, is prioritizing consumer-banking technology.
  • CFO Mark Mason told Insider about how Citi is using data to inform new tech opportunities.  
  • This article is part of “The CFO Project: Future of Finance” series that drills down on what’s on the agendas of some of today’s most influential financial executives.

As the chief financial officer of Citigroup, Mark Mason oversees the finances of a bank that collectively holds some $US2.4 ($AU3) trillion in assets and $US354 ($AU505) billion in retail deposits.

Mason also has a distinct view of Citi’s annual budget, which in 2020 included $US43 ($AU61) billion in operating expenses across things like compensation, advertising and marketing, and technology. 

Almost 20% of that expense budget, or roughly $US7.4 ($AU11) billion, now goes to tech spending; in 2010, that figure was 10%. The increase reflects the trend of the nation’s largest banks devoting more time, effort, and money into upgrading both core consumer-banking tech and the front-end tools used by retail customers, market makers, and portfolio managers. 

“In many ways, there are so many benefits that come from the investments we make in technology, and technology is changing and moving so quickly,” Mason told Insider in an interview in November. “As margins get squeezed for businesses that are very profitable and high returning, technology in many instances gives you the opportunity to bring down your unit cost.”

When Insider spoke with Mason, his team, like others across the bank, was in the middle of reviewing its annual budget. That process includes meetings with Citi’s CEO, Jane Fraser. This year, Mason said, he and Fraser discussed how Citi’s chief data officer for finance interacts with other data heads across the firm, including those in Citi’s institutional and consumer businesses. 

“All of them come together to make sure that the end-to-end view is the way we’re looking at data as it moves through the organization,” Mason said. 

“If you think about data in a finance operation or any institution, as a CFO what you want to make certain of is that the quality of the information that you’re producing is as accurate and timely as it possibly can be,” he added. 

For Citi, Mason said, these data questions span businesses and teams. Timely and accurate info on risk-weighted assets and the capital usage of the bank, for example, can help inform “how much more I want to allocate to a new product or a new client opportunity.” 

Data on Citi’s retail customers — for example, the bank counts more than 130 million credit-card customers across branded and cobranded offerings — is also important. 

“That data actually informs a lot about the nature of that consumer, their behaviors, what they like, what they don’t like, the types of rewards or incentives they’re likely to be more responsive to than others,” Mason said. 

Tech investments — particularly early-stage partnerships with new fintechs — can take a long time to pay off. That makes it difficult from a finance and planning perspective to know how to approach their value. Mason said it’s a major focus when bringing new tech in-house to Citi. 

“One of the things that I have to do is think about what it takes to stand up a new technology: How do I measure efficiency over time, and then how do I actually get that productivity out on the other end?” Mason said.