Citi Explores The Real-Time User Experience

Citi podcast on cross-border payments

The payments industry has been riding the wave of shifting consumer habits and demands, placing the end-user experience at the forefront of new products, services and infrastructure. Those users, both consumers and businesses, aren’t just demanding choice, however.

With the adoption of instant payment schemes accelerating around the world, customers are driving banks to focus on speed, visibility, and added value in their payment services in order to keep clients loyal.

Anupam Sinha, global head of domestic payments and receivables at Citi, told Karen Webster in the latest PYMNTS Treasurers Need To Know podcast series that this industry shift toward speed and the end-user experience means banks must not only respond to changing customer demands, but must also anticipate future needs that even the users – treasurers included – may not yet know they have.


The emergence of real-time treasury is one example of this, he said.

Only a few years ago, corporate treasurer clients weren’t interested in instant payment capabilities, and instead were content to continue managing cash flow based on their 30-day or 60-day payment terms with partners. But with the U.S. investment in real-time payments – one of the first major payments infrastructure investments the country has made in decades, said Sinha – corporates are increasingly acknowledging the potential in instant payment rails, especially with growing expectations for an always-on, 24/7/365 infrastructure.

“The B2B space now sees the benefit [of real-time payments], which is not just about having the ability to do real-time liquidity management or the ability to make emergency payments,” he said. “It’s also about all of the value-adds it brings in. That is the package that instant or real-time payments will bring in over the next five to 10 years, and I think it will be one of the main ways our clients, even in the B2B space, will make payments.”

The Infrastructure Floodgates Open

Sinha pointed to the iPhone as a piece of technology demonstrating the need to anticipate customer needs. A decade ago, he said, if Steve Jobs had asked the world what it wanted in a cell phone, consumers probably would not have responded with something that resembled the iPhone. But the device, of course, took off, thanks in large part to the App Store and its ability to add value to it.

The payments ecosystem has the opportunity to follow that path, he said.

The recent acceleration in the development and adoption of faster payment rails in the U.S. and beyond has anticipated the needs of payers. Sinha pointed to PSD2 in Europe, India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and services like Alipay and WeChat Pay in China, opening the doors to a slew of both government-led and private instant payment offerings.

These efforts are laying down the instant payment rails, but key to adoption, he said, are the value-added services innovators are building on top of them.

Open banking initiatives are one of the biggest accelerators of that effort, with industry participants embracing APIs to enable banks and payment service providers to connect and communicate with each other to more seamlessly execute transactions. What’s so important about open banking, though, is its opportunity to usher in those value-added services and transform the broader user experience.

“Open banking has the potential to significantly change the way we operate not just in payments, but in the overarching banking space,” he said.

Request to pay (R2P) functionality, for instance, has wielded real-time payment rails in markets like the European Union and India, providing the added value of payment confirmation that has historically only been available through card rails, and offering an especially valuable proposition for eCommerce merchants.

“One thing happening as the instant payment rails are being developed is the evolution of request to pay,” Sinha said. “As the eCommerce space evolves, that will be one of the biggest developments on instant rails – along with the development of instant direct debits.”

The Best Experience Is No Experience

Though real-time payment services are not entirely new, it is only in the last several years that significant infrastructure investments have been made, laying the groundwork for banks, payment service providers and FinTechs to develop value-added services on top of those rails.

Though speed may not be a top priority for corporate treasurers, the value of enhanced visibility and traceability of a transaction, along with elevated transaction data capabilities, make real-time and instant payment offerings enticing.

As banks and payment service providers continue to innovate and drive adoption, their success will be dependent not only on facilitating those value-added offerings, but also on their ability to focus on the end-user experience of those services. But for the payment itself, Sinha said, that means cutting out the friction, promoting standardization and, increasingly, making the payment process so integrated and frictionless that a user hardly even notices it’s happening.

“As ecosystems are created, we’re trying to embed ourselves into the ecosystem,” he said. “It’s all about the consumerization of payments, and if you look at the client experience today, it’s about providing an invisible experience to our customers.”