NEW DELHI, December 23
For long, India has been a prime target at Citibank.
As far back as 1902, in the first phase of Asian expansion, Citibank set up its offices in Fort William, Calcutta, and its officials conducted business amidst the bustle of Calcutta, the capital of British India.
Times have changed. The trundle of bullock carts and the stir of the bazzar has given way to the information superhighway . But not Citibank's quest for more and more Indian customers. And now, after an aggressive marketing pitch that lasted six months, the bank claims to have become the first Indian bank to successfully migrate 33 per cent of it banking customers to internet banking.
The bank has been trying to convince the wary Indian consumer to switch to Internet banking for quite some time now. Says Sriram Jagannathan, head, Internet and Mobile communications, Citibank India, "The idea is to allow the customer to use the net for small transactions, until they become comfortable. Once you are comfortable with a small transaction on the net, then you can do big things."
It is a major task that has taxed the marketing savvy of the bank to quite an extent. Admits P.S. Jayakumar, director, sales and distribution, Citibank India, "Getting customers who are used to a particular level of service delivery to "switch" from a channel they are used to, to a newer channel, is not easy." As part of its marketing strategy, the bank offered grand prizes such as an Hyundai Accent, two Compaq laptops, and a range of daily prizes such as a 100 free Interent hours from Satyam Infoway, to lure the customer.
And the quest is still on. The bank is going all out to convince the customer that net banking is the best banking. The Internet value propositon has been incoporated into every service of the bank. Tie-ups have been forged with PC manufacturers and ISP providers to provide best price offers to Citibank customers who may be "internet savvy but not internet enabled." Citibank has also launched pure net products like CitiAlert and Citibank eCard, and is banking on special features such as eCards at Rs.250, while the nearest priced card is at Rs.750, faster responses to Internet requests, a 24-hour helpline, and campaigns to convince more Indians to give up going to the bank for logging on to the bank.
It is a strategy that is in tune for Citibank's ambitious plans for the world of e-commerce and m-commerce." The odds favour those companies that have a combination of strong existing businesses in the brick and mortar world, and also have a technology bias so that they are able to transfer their existing enterprise to the new internet medium," says a press release of the company.
Yet at the same time, the bank recognizes that customer concerns of safety will have to addressed. To address safety concerns, the bank has come up with a combination strategy—asking consumers to punch in both a pin number provided by the bank and the credit card number to ensure safe transactions.
For all its marketing savvy, the bank has to get over the two major obstacles to internet commerce in India—the lack of infrastructure and the fact that less than 5 per cent Indians have access to the net, and of these, only about one-fifth dare punch in their credit card numbers on to the net.
However, the bank has an advantage in the type of people who use the net. "Of the Indians who use the net, the vast majority belong to Sec A", points out Ashok Ghose, vice president, marketing, Media2India.
Another possible obstacle is that most Indians prefer to surf at cafes, where security may be a low priority. A survey by the IMRB, this year, estimates that in the top 16 Indian cities about 43 per cent of active users (1.36 million) have cybercafes as a key access point. The all-India average pegs this at 35 per cent.
And to get these people to punch in their numbers will be the challenge.
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