How the US' largest credit card issuer is staying competitive in the age of tech disruption

Alice Milligan CitiCitiAlice Milligan joined Citigroup as chief customer and digital experience officer in 2014.

After spending the better part of her career working in finance for American Express, Alice Milligan decided it was time for a change.

She then spent just over a year as vice president of marketing at luxury handbag maker Coach, before realising her passions were back in finance.

“I probably learned more in that year than I did in my 15 prior years at American Express,” Milligan told Business Insider in an exclusive interview.

“I learned the importance of getting customers engaged and understanding their needs. Not only what they say, but what of those hidden needs or expectations are. So when I came to Citi we did a lot of work on creating the discipline of design-thinking and how we can not only solve problems today but start to anticipate what some problems might be in the future.”

Milligan joined Citi, the largest credit card issuer in the United States with 94.5 million accounts, in 2014. Today her team of 450 staff includes developers, researchers, and data analysts. She touts their ability to quickly pivot to important projects and features as soon as they come up.

“We wanted to develop a for when a customer loses their card they can get a new card in their hand quickly,” she said. “But through a tremendous amount of customer research, what we actually found was the most important thing was ensuring no one else is using the card they lose. Instead of the status tracker, we pivoted and launched a quick lock feature, which allows someone to lock and unlock their card when they lose it, in just six weeks.”

Development ideas only come this quickly when developers are actually using their product, Milligan said. That’s why she is a Citi customer herself, and looks for places the company can do better.

“The bane of my team’s existence is that they will come in on a Monday morning and have like 50 emails from me saying ‘hey I tried this,’ ‘I’m not sure I got that,’ ‘this works really well,'” she said. “I’m always in there messing around and giving feedback, and I encourage them to do the same.”

On Thursday, Milligan and her team published the results of a survey of 2,000 of their users (below). While many of the results aren’t surprising, they do affirm what we already knew about the millennial generation: Old-school personal finance models just won’t cut it.

Luckily, Milligan realises this, and has built her team to adapt to the changing digital landscape.

“A significant component of my team are millennials,” she said. “It’s important because that’s the next wave of customers. The blend of folks with differing tenure, experience, age, et cetera has been great. We’re trying to get to the place where it’s so intuitive that regardless of who you, you’re able to use this, pick it up and understand your finances.”

Here’s an infographic from Citi illustrating some of the findings in their mobile banking survey:

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