Citi Execs Get Schooled on Digital Strategies by Gen-Y Mentors

As part of a unique reverse-mentoring program, students from the University of Miami School of Business Administration will spend the next six months schooling senior Citi execs on social media and digital technologies.

Mentoring programs in the financial industry are nothing new. Google around and you’ll find plenty of banks (and even a few credit unions) talking up their mentor programs — how they adopt the young, tender, impressionable business leaders of tomorrow and help guide their futures in the right direction. Normally it’s the older, more experienced bankers who are expected to know everything and impart their wisdom. But Citi has turned this model upside down.

Citi is teaming up with the University of Miami to extract insights from Gen-Y college kids who mentor 15 senior execs. The purpose: incorporate their perspective on social media and digital technologies into Citi’s long-term strategies.

“If anyone knows how to use social media and mobile apps, it’s the Millennial generation.”
— Eileen Wende, student and mentor

Juniors, seniors and MBA students from the University’s business school will be paired with a Citi executive whom they will meet with at least once a week for six months. The program officially commences on October 2013.

The executives selected to be mentored include representatives from most of Citi’s major divisions: consumer banking, treasury/trade solutions, wealth management/private banking, public affairs and human resources.

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The mentoring teams will focus on such projects as mobile payment and mobile wallet trends, communicating with millennial customers, the social media relationship between consumers and the banking industry, and the firm’s digital retail business.

The student mentors will work with their executive mentees in face-to-face meetings, as well as virtually, throughout the program. Throughout the duration of the program the students will receive training sponsored by Citi in presentation skills, innovation and design thinking.

According to Jorge Ruiz, head of digital banking for Citi’s Latin America office, the objective is to close the generation gap between employees — Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Millennials.

“If we understand the next generation better, we can motivate and cultivate talent better,” Ruiz explains.

Eileen Wende is among the Miami students who will be mentoring a Citi executive. Wende, a second-year MBA student, thinks her generation is a goldmine of information when it comes to technology.

“If anyone knows how to use social media and mobile apps, it’s the Millennial generation,” Wende says.

“Reverse mentoring is a very innovative practice, especially in the banking industry. We believe in the valuable contribution that young students can offer through their fresh perspective and we expect to take advantage of that to fine-tune our digital strategy for the next ten or fifteen years”, said Alvaro Marquez, head of HR for Citi Latin America. “The University of Miami is a great partner for these purposes, since many Latin American social trends and business opportunities are generated or captured early on in Miami.”

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The reverse mentoring program is another in a number of collaborative initiatives Citi has forged with the university’s business school. The bank has recruited nearly 50 young alumni and graduates over the past three years. The offices of undergraduate business education, career services, and alumni relations also work together to bring students and Citi executives together throughout the year. This includes organizing career fairs, bringing Citi executives to speak to student organizations or classes and networking with School alumni who currently work at Citi — a group dubbed “Citi ‘Canes.”

Citi Latam recently began hiring students from the School for full-semester paid internships. Students work full-time in a variety of roles, getting the opportunity to connect with people around Latin America.

Citi hasn’t mentioned anything about this unique reverse-mentoring program on any of its social media channels — not even on LinkedIn, where the bank has a whopping 426,754 followers. This seems like the perfect story to share on LinkedIn; it’s a new professional management tool that many executives would be interested in knowing about. But there’s no reason Citi couldn’t share the news on Facebook and Twitter either.

Citi say it will be monitoring the program and if everything goes well, they intend to partner with other schools and roll it out in more areas.

American Banker published a series of 10 New Year resolutions for bankers in which they advocated for reverse-mentoring programs. “The classic portrait of a bank executive is of an older, white, straight male,” they wrote. “But reverse mentorship can work for any leader who is paired with someone different from him- or herself, whether in terms of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and so on.”

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