Citi Looks to LatAm Developers to See Where Mobile Innovation is Going

With the Citi Mobile Challenge Latam, Citi seeks to identify what's to come in mobile banking and finance. Jorge Ruiz discusses the details.

For major corporations, innovation is key in staying ahead of competitors. But that innovation doesn’t always come from within. In fact, more and more leading companies are looking externally and to the little guys to help them find the next big thing in tech. One of the latest entities to embark on such an endeavor is Citi.

Currently, the finance giant has opened up the Citi Mobile Challenge Latam. A virtual contest for developers, the competition is designed to accelerate mobile banking innovation by bringing together the most talented, creative developers and designers to create applications for Citi’s mobile banking platform.

Jorge Ruiz“For us, digital is a strategic pillar for what we do. We believe we are very well positioned in the region in terms of the capabilities we have and the markets where we operate. We have different capabilities for online, mobile and tablets, and we’ve won some awards in those categories,” explained Jorge Ruiz, Managing Director, Business Development and Digital Banking Head for Latin America at Citibank, in a phone interview with PulsoSocial. What we want to do now is to expand what we have, which we believe is already very robust, with really innovative solutions that we can take into our mobile capability. The hackathon we’re sponsoring this year is to enhance our mobile capabilities in the consumer space and also in the corporate space.”

The Citi Mobile Challenge is focused on two distinct categories: innovative mobile solutions and B2B. The former seeks apps that can be integrated with the Citi Mobile and/or Citi Beneficios platform, and the latter B2B products in collaboration with Citi Microfinance that promote inclusive finance and empower small merchants and retailers in connecting with major suppliers. Independent developers and teams as well as established companies are welcome to compete.

The contest is a virtual one and based in the cloud, meaning it can include participants from all over the world. And because it takes place over an extended timeframe as opposed to the usual weekend timeline of most hackathons, competitors have more time to build real, effective, integrated solutions that can add value as fast as possible.

In fact, participants must be pre-selected just to get a foot in the door. Those interested need to first register to compete, and only when Citi has decided to invite them do they receive the API toolkit to start work. They are then required to submit prototypes, after which finalists will be chosen to present at two demo events – one in Buenos Aires on the 30th and 31st of May, and the other in Bogotá on June 6th and 7th.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.51“Throughout the month that we will be working with different developers, we’ll be able to touch on different aspects of development – the quality of the code, security, look and feel, and all of the different aspects,” Ruiz noted. “Hopefully, we will find interesting solutions that are going to help us not just in the consumer space but also on the corporate side and, extremely importantly, in the financial inclusion piece, where we want to partner with corporate clients to get into the financial inclusion ecosystem to support the inclusion of new people into the financial sector.”

The Citi team is quite open to the types of products and solutions they’re expecting. We want to be able to explore what others are thinking about mobile capabilities and what else can be done with them,” Ruiz remarked. However, he did mention a few specifics, including top-up solutions, e-commerce, and integrated payment solutions for other services, such as mobile orders.

Itziar Diez-Canedo, VP Digital Strategy at Citi Latin America, added:

We want it to be broad enough so that this challenge serves as a way to look at the market and know what innovation energy is going towards. We want to recruit top talent from across markets and different demographics.

Beyond the Citi Mobile Challenge, both Ruiz and Diez-Canedo reflected on the mobile finance panorama in Latin America overall. How does the region stack up against more developed markets?

“One of the main differences that you see from Latin America is penetration for smartphones. Smartphones obviously offer a lot more possibilities in terms of the solutions that you can offer to your clients, and once smartphone penetration grows in Latin America, I’m sure that we are going to be looking at more traffic going through those channels,” Ruiz remarked.

He also pointed to the issue of regulations as governments work to get their ducks in a row when it comes to mobile banking and digital finance:

I think Latin America is evolving in terms of platforms, regulation and penetration. And all that is setting up an ecosystem that has not yet defined what the best possible solution is for all of those. I think it’s more specific depending on which market you’re approaching.

In Haiti, for example, he said that it looks like SMS technology will still be the best route for a while. In Colombia, however, a data solution will be a better fit.

And while solutions are coming from within Latin America – Ruiz highlighted cases in the Dominican Republic and Brazil – they’re also coming from abroad. “We’ve been getting a lot of interest from U.S.-based companies that are looking to expand to Latin America, and they see Citi as a regional partner with which to do that,” Diez-Canedo added. “We have both sides of the equation, I think. And there’s a lot of interest – more than we expected – from U.S.-based companies that are looking to adapt U.S.-based solutions in a way that makes sense for market realities in Latin America.”

Find out more about the Citi Mobile Challenge Latam and the company’s efforts in the region here.