Inside Citi Ventures’ internal ‘Shark Tank’ D10X

Citi Ventures is known for its investments in such large startups as Plaid, Square and Betterment, but it’s also focused on building innovation and entrepreneurship inside the bank.

Alex Sion, director and co-head of D10X at Citi Ventures

D10X, which was created three years ago, is one of the ways Citi’s corporate venture arm incubates new concepts and ideas. It’s led by internal entrepreneurs who identify critical problems faced by Citi clients, and is often described as an internal “Shark Tank,” in which employees pitch business ideas to internal experts and senior leaders.

D10X reportedly has more than 100 internal startups, drawing on the expertise of hundreds of teams of employees.

“How do you future proof a large institution like Citi? You have to place some bets, and you have to create some structures to do that,” said Alex Sion, director and co-head of D10X at Citi Ventures, at a New York event hosted by Bank Innovation on Tuesday. “Sometimes I want to build stuff — I don’t want to be a venture investor, but I want to build that thing myself, and that’s where D10X comes in.”

Rachel Moore, senior vice president and innovator in residence at Citi Fintech, is an internal entrepreneur who leads Out of the Red, an initiative to assist consumers with debt management. She explained that the program offers Citi employees the latitude to examine bigger consumer problems in a holistic way.

See also: Inside Citi Ventures’ approach to finding talent

“How can we possibly solve that and help people change the world and have it make sense for Citi?” she said. “You have to convince a growth board, which are senior executives at Citi that there is a need, and you have to pitch just like you would to a VC.”

Moore noted that her team incorporates agile structures and cross-cutting expertise. It includes engineers, designers, marketers and internal executives.

“What’s awesome about doing something like this at a bigger company is that you do have those resources,” Moore explained. “There’s a lot of structure. There are extended teams and we work in a collaborative and agile [way] but we still need to focus.” 

Asked about the future paths for D10X initiatives, Sion noted that new business lines aren’t always in the cards. Instead, the initiatives help the bank survey the needs of the market and inform its innovation and investment trajectories.

“If we’re incredibly lucky and awesome, maybe one in a million will [become a business line],” said Sion. “The vast majority of these are just value propositions that we’re being given permission to explore in much more agile, flexible ways. The intent would be to scale them.”

Bank Innovation Ignite, which will take place March 2-3 in Seattle, is a must-attend industry event for professionals overseeing financial technologies, product experiences and services. This is an exclusive, invitation-only event for executives eager to learn about the latest innovations. Request your invitation.