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Creating a Smart Money Society – An Interview with Carey Kolaja of Citi Fintech

State Street

July 25,2017

When it comes to fintech, there are two main categories of players – the startups and the institutions.

Each comes with their own pros and cons. For instance, startups typically have the speed and culture that support innovation. On the flip side, institutions have the bankroll and business acumen to take a new product to market. Neither side is inherently better than the other, but each look at the fintech landscape and future of financial services a little differently.

Interestingly, Citi Fintech straddles both worlds. It’s the startup inside the institution. So we decided to talk with Carey Kolaja, Chief Product Officer of Citi Fintech, and see how her team approaches innovation and the future of fintech.

Why Citi Fintech?

Customers today don’t draw distinctions between mobile solutions built by big organizations versus startups. They want the best-in-class experiences for everything they do in life and they expect us to engage with them when and where they are. Nearly two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone,1 and 19% of Americans use only mobile devices to access the Internet.

Citi Fintech was created to deliver a radically simple, yet connected customer experience via mobile devices – providing customers with convenient and innovative ways to borrow, pay, save, invest and protect. In order to accomplish that, our leadership gave us license to transform how Citi operates. We broke down silos and are working end-to-end across business, technology and functions such as governance.

It is up to us to protect our customers’ most precious asset - their identity and the emotion surrounding it.

Our culture looks a little different from other areas in the bank. We empower our project teams to make decisions, to find purpose beyond the bottom line and to embrace fun at work.

What did Citi Fintech do in order to iterate faster, fail fast and adhere to the sprint schedule of project development?

In building our solutions, we started with the customer. 12 days after we launched Citi Fintech, we were speaking directly to our customers; 2,500 people over 5 months to hone in on their needs. Then we built in 2-week sprints, co-creating with our customers to deliver the solutions they wanted more quickly than ever before.

Blockchain seems to be the topic d’jour, but what does Citi Fintech see as the next wave of innovation?

What I’m most excited about and intrigued by is the transformation fintech has brought to money movement. It’s a tipping point for financial inclusion; opening the doors to new merchants, marketplaces and users.

A payment is a moment that represents a person’s individual needs, and it facilitates the important life events behind the scenes (beyond just the exchange of money). The introduction of technology and the newly-streamlined movement of money has removed the need to focus on the utility of the transaction. Now we can redirect our energy to the emotional element of each payment.

This is critical to a sustainable, smart money society. It is up to us to protect our customers’ most precious asset, their identity and the emotion surrounding it.

1. Smith, A. (2015, April 01). U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from


Topics: Advanced Technology , Fintech

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