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Citibank\'s Pant knows how to give customers what they want

Citibank\'s Pant knows how to give customers what they want

Just like many individuals mesmerized by Bollywood's allure, Pradeep Pant toyed with the idea of joining the world's biggest film industry several years ago.

"I did some writing, mostly dramas, and then I just stopped. I was very young then," laughs Pant. "The thought of acting in front of the camera did not occur to me. I just did a bit of writing."

Bollywood's lost is the financial industry's gain.

Instead of pursuing a career in show business, Pant chose to join the world of finance. He is currently vice president and Card Business director of Citibank Taiwan.

An avid tennis player and long distance runner, Pant did not immediately join the banking sector. After earning his degree in mechanical engineering, he worked at the prestigious India Institute of Technology, and later studied marketing management in graduate school. He joined Citibank India eight years ago.

Before taking charge of Citibank's Cards Business in Taiwan late last year, he was based in Citibank Singapore where he was vice president and regional marketing head.

In Taiwan, Pant is working double-time to strengthen his team's marketing initiatives, and launch innovative reward programs and packages that will keep Citibank's 1.7 million customers loyal and interested.

"One of my (career highs at Citibank) probably happened in India," he says in an earlier interview. "Our India business grew at 32 to 34 percent annually for four consecutive years. That was a great success. We grew our market share and portfolio every year, and that was a very satisfying experience."

In Taiwan, Pant is just as competitive. Last week, he added a bit of glitz into Citibank's marketing campaign by launching an "idol search" - a first in the local market.

The "2006 Citibank Clear Idol Search" is open to Taiwanese nationals between the ages of 20 and 30. Aspiring commercial models are encouraged to sign up for an "audition" between now and November 8. They can do that by logging on to http://www.citibank.com.tw, and downloading and submitting their application forms. Applicants have to share their personal thoughts about fiscal responsibility, volunteerism, the arts, and even minute details such as their favorite cafes, amusement park rides, and movies.

On November 14, Citibank will announce the top 10 to 20 candidates on its Web site. The general public will then be invited to vote online for their two favorite candidates. Online votes, which will account for half of the candidates' final scores, may be cast between November 14 and November 27.

The final round will take place on December 3 at a public gathering. The winners - one male and one female - will each receive NT$100,000-worth of free credit on their Citibank Clear Card and advertising contracts from the bank.

"We hope this will give them the chance to further their careers in modeling or advertising," says Pant.

The executive says the talent search "is not about selling more cards" but about getting a clear understanding of the younger generation's lifestyle, and what they are looking for in terms of banking services.

"We want to do something for (this market segment), and (our activity) has to be interesting and different from what the others are doing. We are trying to give (our Clear Credit Card members) - many of them are young, trendy professionals - a forum where they can showcase their talents," Pant says.

"I think this is just one way of giving something back to the people. We don't want to make this too 'commercial.'"

Pant expects the level of competition in Taiwan's card market to remain high. He is however not going to compete by launching new cards every six months, he says.

"Again, Citibank does not do that many launches unless there is a real need for a new card product. In a very active market, I think our aim is understand what our customers are looking for (in their plastic). Right now, we are working on some concepts which we believe are needed in Taiwan, and you will hear from us soon."

His mission, he adds, is to make a Citibank card the "best" card in a customer's wallet.

Although Citibank already has a strong franchise and is offering good customer service, the bank will continuously be introducing product innovations and technologies to fortify its business, he says.

"We want our customers to use our products because our cards have no value if they do not use them. Therefore, my work starts on the day that I put that card in your purse," Pant explains.

Each Citibank card is designed to meet the needs of a specific market segment. The Platinum card - the most popular plastic in the Citibank stable - is known for its cash-back benefits. Citibank World Privileges also grant Platinum cardholders special offers from over 20,000 merchants worldwide.

The Clear Card appeals to younger customers who want instant bonuses from free movie tickets to bigger mugs of coffee at Barista, he continues.

"They don't want it next month, they want it tomorrow," says Pant.