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Citi Rolls Out Its Version of the Apple Store

If you wanted to build banking’s version of Apple’s stores, you could bumble around trying to reverse-engineer the concept. Or you could go straight to the source, like Citibank did. Citi retained the services of Eight Inc., the architectural and strategic design firm behind the revolutionary Apple Store design, to create a new retail prototype for the global bank’s branch of the future.

“We’re knee deep in everything Apple,” Debby Hopkins, Citibank’s Chief Innovation Officer, told Fox News. “We’re huge believers in their capabilities, approach and philosophy, which is about really strong design backed by extraordinary systems.”

Subscribe TodayThree years in the making, the result of Citi’s partnership with Eight is a series of flagship “Smart Banking” branch locations opened around the world. The first prototype debuted in Singapore in 2008, followed by locations in Japan, Hong Kong and, most recently, New York. While developing the concept, Eight says over 100 branch-level processes were reengineered. There are even four patents pending.

In an interview with BAI, Citi’s US head of retail banking, Brad Dinsmore, said the bank plans to roll out ideas pioneered at its prototype locations. “We will build a handful of flagship branches in key metropolitan cities, but most of the branches will be much smaller in design. While they will include elements of the flagship design and some of the technology, they won’t be nearly as large.” (You should read the rest of the interview here. It is excellent.)

Manuel Medina-Mora, head of Citi’s U.S. consumer banking division, said the bank’s strategy is to “invest in retail banking with a focus on customer-centric innovations and an eye towards growth in our key markets, drawing on smart banking technologies and best practices developed by Citi in Asia.”

At the centerpiece of the Citi’s branch of the future is a huge, interactive media wall displaying local weather, news and financial updates. There is also a touchscreen “Planning Table,” a series of interactive “Work Benches” and a digital “Service Browser” where customers can cruise Citi’s products and services (think: Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”). If a customer needs service, they can head over to the “360 Station,” a concierge-style rotunda (basically a greeter station). Customers can also opt for a live video conference with a remote Citi specialist.

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A quick YouTube tour of Citi’s new “Smart Banking” flagship branch prototypes from Japan.

Union Square, New York City

Drawing on concepts pioneered by Citi in Asia, the bank’s NYC branch features six interactive video sales walls, supercharged ATMs, free WiFi and access to Citi’s global experts via private two-way video conferencing. There is also a private seating lounge for Citigold customers, Citi’s premium banking service.

Subscribe TodayThe biggest innovation is perhaps Citi’s 24/7 access to customer service experts via live video-assist terminals in the ATM lobby — something Citi claims is the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S.

Sometime in early 2011, Citi’s NYC location will begin hosting regular financial seminars on investing, buying a home, estate planning, retirement planning and more.

The branch staffs 24 employees, and includes workers recruited from hotels and retailers, Citibank says.

“The Union Square location is bigger because we have so many specialists and experts located at the branch — small business bankers, personal wealth management advisors, mortgage specialists and those associated with our premium Citigold offering,” said Citi’s Dinsmore.


Go behind the scenes for the countdown to the opening of Citi’s new flagship branch in New York City with Billy Cho, the branch manager, and Brad Dinsmore, Head of Retail Banking, North America Consumer Banking in this fast-paced, three-minute video.

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Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Citi’s Hong Kong flagship branch is wrapped in massive exterior LED video walls that light up in a visual spectacle twice daily, one at 1 pm and another at 8 pm. The shows are presented on two LED screens on the building’s façade that tower nearly 60 feet.

Subscribe TodayThis massive 23,000 square foot location (2,150 sq.m), spans four floors and is staffed by over 100 employees (who must share five iPads). There are seven 52” interactive service touchscreens, ten individual “Work Benches” and six supercharged ATMs. It took sixteen 46-inch screens to build the large media wall that shows news and financial information.

The branch’s ground floor houses retail banking operations, with mortgage, loan, investment and insurance reps on the first floor.

The second floor is for affluent Citigold customers, with a dedicated teller counter and commercial banking services. The top floor is reserved for Citi’s private banking clients, with more sophisticated wealth management and financial services for high-net worth individuals.

The opening of the new flagship location in Mong Kok is one of 33 new retail branch locations Citi has opened in the region. They now have more than 700 branches across the region, and that number is expected to grow to about 1,000 in the next three to four years. Citibank is also deploying an additional 150 ATMs around the territory, bringing the total to over 250 company-branded ATMs.

A specially designed wall in Citibank facilities allows customers to see the latest local and world news. It’s like a digital poster with promotions in real time, and Citi worked on it with the same firm that designed the iPhone.

Like a giant iPhone that lets you shop for different credit cards or home loans, the sales wall is a massive screen. You flip through products on a large touch screen that works like the “cover flow” feature on iPods. You can either scan the information to your phone or apply right on the screen.

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  1. Brady Walen says:

    While Citi may have tapped the same firm responsible for the Apple Store concept, I think it’s a big mistake to emphasize the Apple Store inspiration behind these new branches. It sets extremely high expectations for consumers. And it’s unlikely that a financial institution will be able to deliver an entire experience that feels similar to the experience of an Apple Store.

    After all, store design is only one element of this experience. Financial institutions aren’t selling a tangible product (in most cases). People like to visit Apple Stores because they can play with products they’ve seen on TV. People aren’t visiting bank branches to play with products.

    My biggest concern is that community-based financial institutions will try to use this example as a reason to adopt some kind of Apple-centric approach at their institution. We’ve seen it already in varying degrees at other financial institutions around the country. In many cases, these are poorly executed and completely disconnected from the institution’s brand position. And as a result, the efforts aren’t doing anything for the bottom line. Copying Apple (or any company for that matter) isn’t the answer.

  2. Personally, I don’t see much connection between Apple’s stores and this branch design. Using the Apple slant may just be a PR play. There’s a lot more to Apple and their stores than just clean design and slick tech. It starts with the company’s DNA, which is fundamentally about creating the most simple, sleek, easy to use, intuitive products possible.

  3. Nice to see a bank jumping from the tradition ship to create an open customer experience unlike any status quo providers. “Open design” will be a popular description, but in reality, Citi conveys a transparency to its clients. Like Apple, it is an inviting environment that draws you in and offers more than you would expect.

    Looking forward to the customer response sequel.

  4. Michele Lee says:

    Even though they wanted to achieve an Apple-esque style, the branch photos look a little cold if you ask me. It reminds me more of an over-crowded, inefficient telco shop than a sleek, sexy bank that is supposed to be customer-centric. I think Apple stores, with their all-white furnishings, look MUCH more welcoming.

  5. Have to say it doesn’t inspire me at all – cold and clinical. And those video screens and monitors look like 2001: A Space Odyssey – an idea of a future world that looks a lot more clunky than it actually should. I prefer the Umpqua approach, which seems a lot more friendly and relaxing – the kind of place I actually would go in to, even if I had no need for banking services.

    Seems to me that Citibank have bigger problems anyway – does anyone know who or what they actually stand for these days? Their website is a corporate generic mess, their brand standards are all over the place and everyone I talk to says they have terrible service.

  6. Actually on second view, I realise what it looks like – a training academy for Vulcans. There is exactly zero personality to it and, let’s face it, that personality void is unlikely to be filled by bank products and people on monitors.

  7. Brady Walen says:

    Keep in mind that Umpqua Bank introduced us to a branch with similar features, its Innovation Lab, before giving us the more comfortable neighborhood branch. Maybe it’s an indication that Umpqua Bank is more than a few steps ahead of other “leaders” in the industry.

  8. Brrr…baby it’s cold inside!

  9. Jayaprawirya Diah says:

    While the idea is great – I personally think it was poorly executed and not well thought of.

    It seems Citi only focus on the technology showcase rather than solution-based design toward its customer.

  10. Citibank, spending your money foolishly; hence the 29% interest rate. Customer service at it’s finest!

  11. Mark Wrice says:

    And the Morgue of the Year Award goes to Citi Bank. For seriously clinical and cold retail ascetics

  12. Information wall is a flashy gimmick.
    Who would stand in front of a big board to obtain info? Lets see, touch a dirty screen, take five steps back to read the image, walk back to flick to the next screen–not my kind of experience.

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