Citi shops on eBay for new head of data

While banks have seen some of their brightest talents seize new opportunities in fintech, Citi is fighting back against the disruptors by recruiting from a leading retail website.

A former eBay executive is joining Citigroup as head of Asia-Pacific data and analytics in its consumer banking team, a move which goes against the trend of leading figures from banking heading to tech start-ups, and bolstering Citi's fightback against fintech disruptors.

Zoher Karu's appointment was announced by the US bank on Tuesday. He previously worked as chief data officer at eBay, the global online marketplace which he first joined in 2013 as vice-president of customer optimisation and data. 

Citi said Karu would report directly to Anand Selva, its head of consumer banking for the region, and would be responsible for driving the use of data to deliver "customer value and business growth". It cited the example of using customers' banking behaviour and location to offer customised merchant banking.

Hiring from an established technology player like eBay is something of a role reversal for the region's banks, which have seen top talent switch to the up-and-coming fintech sector, with Citi not immune to the trend

Earlier this year Jonathan Larsen, left his position as global head of retail at Citigroup to be insurer Ping An's chief innovation officer. More recently the US bank's Asia head of insurance investment banking, Donald Lacey, joined Ping An work on its Global Voyager Fund. 

Citi has long strived to build digital engagement in the region. Its Asia-Pacific chief, Francisco Aristeguieta, set out in a 2016 interview with FinanceAsia how the bank was switching from bricks-and-mortar branches to more digitial engagement.

And Citi is not alone, with banks across the region working on strategies to fight back against the digital disruptors

"Zoher’s appointment to this role is a key part of our digital transformation and overall strategy," Selva said in a statement. "To be Asia’s best digital bank, we need to offer remarkable client experiences that set us apart and that are locally relevant to our target customers.

"Data and technology are critical enablers to build these capabilities and create and offer real-time experiences that are hyper-personalised, contextual and highly relevant to our customers."

FinanceAsia has acknowledged the growing importance of digital to the region's financial technology players by adding a best digital financial services category to its annual Achievement Awards. However the winners was not a traditional bank but rather a digital innovator - namely financial iconoclast Ant Financial.

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