Citi Ventures, Citbank’s corporate venture arm, is turning to startups that can solve pain points for incumbent banks and financial companies. In particular, it is interested in companies that use data, AI and machine learning to support these approaches, including the identity verification company Trulioo and accounts receivable company HighRadius. Citi Ventures also incubates ideas from within the bank through its D10X model, which works with bank employees who propose ideas.
According to Travis Skelly, senior vice president of venture investing at Citi Ventures, the stakes are constantly getting higher for companies seeking funding. “Startups, incumbents and everyone in-between is using the term data-driven. The reality is everyone has access to data, but being able to effectively use large and disparate data sets can be very challenging,” Skelly said. “We’ve seen a number of new technology companies that help ingest and make sense of the data. What we’re now seeing is the evolution of that, where the data edge is becoming part of the broader platform to enable some other solution.”
Skelly noted that Citi Ventures’ portfolio companies have rolled out follow-on initiatives to address pain points within the bank itself. For example, Citi Treasury and Trade Solutions launched a partnership last year with HighRadius on an initiative called Citi Smart Match, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to match open invoices with payments that already have been received. Other Citi Ventures portfolio companies look to other use cases including Flybits, which helps banks suggest relevant products to customers, and Clarity Money, a personal finance management company that was acquired by Goldman Sachs last year.
Skelly said Citi Ventures looks for entrepreneurs that are mindful of the regulatory environment. “This is not ‘move fast and break stuff’,” he quipped. “This is a different land, where not thinking about regulations and not being compliant from day one will crush you very quickly.” Startups that do well tend to employ people with a financial background and a legal and compliance capacity, he added.
Meanwhile, D10X functions as an internal incubation model, whereby employees can pitch ideas they think can help the bank. D10X takes ideas from internal bank employees who have an area of expertise such as mortgages. The bank hires former entrepreneurs to coach these employees on startup skills like product marketing and drafting proof of concepts. In turn, employees go through an internal “Shark Tank,” in which executives decide which areas merit the time, resources and funding to continue development. The entrepreneur coaches also teach employees how to carry out customer feedback surveys.
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