“Because of intense short-term performance pressures, banks have become too transactional and top line-focused,” Ashmita Acharya replies when I ask her about the future of banking. It’s a surprising answer, especially since it’s coming from the retail banking head of Citibank Singapore. But Acharya, who took on the role late last year, has a refreshing, long-term perspective.

She explains: “I want to build relationships that are trans-generational. We need to stop focusing purely on the present because our clients will remain with us for decades to come. And over time, there will be intergenerational wealth transfer. What’s most important to Citi is building on and investing in relationships based on trust.”

That’s one reason Acharya is laser-focused on building a better customer-centric product and advisory service across the entire spectrum. She wants Citi to remain relevant to the customer of tomorrow, which is why the bank is investing heavily in digital tools. Of course, she knows that every other financial player in Singapore is doing the same, and it’s going to be an “excessively competitive market”. But, for Acharya, digital is not the be-all and end-all of Citi’s strategy. It’s just one component of a seamless customer journey.

“You can start your relationship with us traditionally and end digitally, or vice versa. Right now, it’s disjointed. The bank that can stitch this experience together will most probably win. If relationship managers can track and understand what their clients do online, and follow through when meeting face to face, they will be better positioned to cater to customer needs,” she explains.

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“I want to build relationships that are trans-generational. We need to stop focusing purely on the present because our clients will remain with us for decades to come.”

Ashmita Acharya, Citibank’s head of retail banking.

Acharya also has a team studying what fintech players are doing so that Citi can understand and adopt best practices. It’s this culture of innovation that permeates the entire organisation. She admits that Citi, like many other banks that were content to rest on their laurels, became comfortable with its position of dominance until the global financial crisis. Since that time, as customers became more demanding, Citi has stepped up like it did in the past, while still maintaining its stellar customer experience.

Now that every banking service can be offered digitally, it’s easy to lose a customer. “What we really want to achieve is a customer experience that results in a client looking forward to coming back. In order to achieve this, we realised that we would need to become a highly valued and trusted financial services provider, and a well-recognised and respected global bank,” she says.

“One of our goals is to have a best-in-class advisory experience.” Citi is doing something right. It recently topped the Forrester Singapore 2021 Customer Experience Index in the banks category. It’s the first time it has been awarded this accolade.

Ultimately, Acharya’s vision for Citi’s approach to wealth mirrors her own – that it is a tool which allows one the freedom to live the kind of life one would like to lead. For Acharya, that means spending time with family and pursuing her passions, which include drawing and cooking. Her signature dish, she proudly says, is dum biryani.
This self-introspection also extends to Citi’s internal culture. “The next generation of employees will want different things from life,” she says.

“I think they will feel the need to believe in the values of the organisation and what it is trying to accomplish.”

She admits that much still needs to be done. But she’s also up to the challenge. Acharya tells me that this is possibly the most exciting moment in her career, despite having spent 20 years at Citi and having experienced a myriad of triumphs and challenges.

That’s not surprising. Citi is investing heavily in Singapore as part of its global growth strategy, and the future has never been brighter.