Pandit Spams his Customers

Logging on to my Citibank account this morning, I found this, which recapitulates an email I received a few days ago:


The link takes you here, to a letter which simply begs for parsing.

But before we get to the (ahem) substance of the letter, it’s worth asking what on earth it’s doing existing in the first place. "An important message"? Pandit is starting out on the wrong foot, since 100% of the people reading this will know that by "important" he means precisely the opposite. And "an important message", of course, is how television stations used to refer to advertisements: "We’ll be right back after these…"

Most people who see this link won’t click on it, so the message of the link itself is paramount. And that message is basically "Vikram Pandit is dissembling already". Remember there’s even an entire book called Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit.

It’s no secret that banks are pretty unloved, even by the standards of big corporations. Pandit, here, is clearly piloting the oil tanker Bullshit, which shows no sign of turning around.

The letter itself only makes things worse.

Dear Valued Customer,

I want you to be among the first to know about the bold steps we are taking at Citi to be the premier, global, fully integrated financial services firm.

Our objective is to create for our customers an experience in which services are seamless, payments and transfers effortless, and distances meaningless. My commitment–and the commitment of everyone at Citi–is to work tirelessly around the world and around the clock to deliver outstanding value and service as we continue to earn your trust and that of every customer we serve.

We are proud of our enduring strength as a global financial institution, striving to successfully meet the needs of clients like you in more than 100 countries. As always, we look forward to continuing to serve you–wherever you are and wherever you need to be.

It’s a concatenation of marketing slogans all tied up in a remarkably defensive package: does a successful CEO ever boast of taking "bold steps"? No – and certainly not without actually mentioning a single one of those steps.

The letter is entirely bereft of any specifics; instead, it manages to use the word "serve" or "service" or "services" five times in three paragraphs. The whole thing reads like a clumsy ex-post rationalization of the new-old "Citi never sleeps" slogan, even as it announces impossible objectives like making "distances meaningless". (Try telling that to the man who laughed in my face a couple of days ago, at Citibank in Berlin, when I inquired as to whether I might be able to open an account denominated in euros.)

Worst of all, the number one thing which Pandit claims he’s trying to do is create an experience. No! I don’t want my bank to create an experience! I want my bank to do things like extend me a loan when I need one, be open and transparent about its costs and fees, and give me a straight answer when I have a simple question. Oh, and admitting that it is occasionally fallible might be nice, too.

Instead, we get Vikram Pandit sticking his bright-idea marketing spiel into all of his customers’ inboxes. Vikram, you’re an investment banker by trade; your venture into fund management was a disaster, and there’s absolutely no reason for you to think that you know the first thing about retail banking, let alone the best way of marketing Citibank. But you’re obviously one of those CEOs who needs to learn things the hard way.

If there’s one thing which we can actually learn from this letter, it’s that Pandit is finding it so impossible to delegate and to trust his lieutenants that’s he’s becoming personally involved in decisions well below his exalted pay grade. I’m quite sure that no one who actually knows and understands Citi’s branch network thought it was a good idea to spam all the bank’s customers with a vapid message from the new CEO. But those people don’t matter, Vikram’s in charge now, and he clearly has no idea what he’s doing.

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