Citi says Israel is central player in fintech

Forward-thinking banks are investing heavily in technology, start-ups and the fintech ecosystem, not only to keep an edge on their competition.

November 16, 2015 22:49
2 minute read.
DON CALLAHAN, Citi Global’s head of operation and technology

DON CALLAHAN, Citi Global’s head of operation and technology. (photo credit: COURTESY CITI)


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Citi, one of the world’s largest banks, sees Israel as a central player in financial-technology innovation and technology, executives from the bank said Monday in Tel Aviv.

“What we’ve done in Israel has put us ahead of what Citi is doing worldwide,” said Neil Corney, Citi Israel’s CCO and markets head at the bank’s Fintech Expo, which shows off technologies being developed by Citi Labs and start-ups in the company’s accelerator.

“Israel really is the center of fintech,” he added.

For example, Citi Israel developed the smart-watch version of the bank’s app for traders, figuring out how to make the technology usable on a wearable device.

Citi Global’s head of operation and technology, Don Callahan, in Israel for the first time, said he was astounded by the level of innovation he saw here.

“I see innovation coming out of Israel in levels that I don’t see in other parts of the world, and in some areas in particular,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

“In areas like cyber, the awareness of how fast the whole topic is advancing is very high, and the innovation and capabilities are matching that.”

Forward-thinking banks are investing heavily in technology, start-ups and the fintech ecosystem, not only to keep an edge on their competition, but to ensure that they will be prepared for large disruptions that might come from the fintech world.

The Israeli start-ups in the fourth iteration of Citi’s accelerator program show off a wide range of approaches to improving the financial world, which Callahan said include everything from improved ease of use for clients to tools that increase financial inclusion in the developing world.

While smartphones have become ubiquitous, he noted, there was plenty of room for growth in mobile banking.

Getgems, for example, built a payment app that allows people to make quick, easy payments through common messaging apps. Once people are signed up, they can quickly send a payment over WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or any online platform.

On the other end of the financial spectrum lies Polycoin, a system that rates merchants using Bitcoin or other “Cryptocurrencies.” Because trust is one of the most difficult things to establish with online transactions linked to unregulated cyber currencies, a program that raises red flags can help facilitate online trade.

Rewire, which just launched its app a few weeks ago, looks to make remittance payments simpler and roughly 60 percent cheaper. Its test case in Israel is foreign workers from the Philippines, who might have to pay as much as 6% for wiring money home to their families. The app reduces costs by more than half.

Meanwhile, Epistema seeks to upend organizational knowledge by creating an automated internal system to encourage peer review and cross-checking within an organization.

Though Citi invests in some of the companies it comes across, the accelerator’s main goal is to keep the pulse on fin-tech. Where there’s a fit, the company can help a small company reach a global network, Callahan said.

“One of the thing that sets Citi apart is our globality, so we have the ability to help our corporate clients be truly global,” he said, adding, “We can help a small company become global very fast.”

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