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REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Citi has been focusing on adding tech talent for its new “Fintech” division.
WORD

Citigroup proves banks can poach talent from Silicon Valley

By Ian Kar

While the “cool” thing might be ditching your cushy job in banking for a $50 billion startup, some longtime tech employees are headed in the other direction.

Carey Kolaja, a decade-long PayPal employee who was second-in-command of its consumer products division, left in August to join Citi Fintech, a new unit of Citigroup focused on improving mobile banking experiences. Kolaja started as Citi Fintech’s global product officer last month.

This isn’t Citi’s first hire from the tech world—in Feb. 2015, the bank hired the ex-head of Amazon Payments, Matt Swann, as the chief technology officer for its global cards division.

The moves are part of a tug of war for talent between Silicon Valley and Wall Street, as the finance and technology industries jostle for control of tech driven areas such as payments and lending. Tech companies in those fields have lured their fair share of executives. For example, Blythe Masters, a longtime JPMorgan executive, became the CEO of Digital Assets Holdings, a blockchain company, in March 2015. Apple has been hiring from the financial services industry for its mobile wallet, Apple Pay. For example, Amit Parikh, the ex-head of prepaid at Discover, joined in March, and Gail Hodges, formerly the global head of digital payments for HSBC, started in June.

But traditional banks, like Citi, are finding success pulling talent away from the tech world. For example, Deutsche Bank just hired a high level exec from UK lending startup Funding Circle, one of the most well-known fintech firms, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In an emailed statement to Quartz, Kolaja acknowledged Citi’s global presence as a factor in her decision to join the firm. ”While there are many companies working on exciting things in the FinTech space, the opportunity to work with [Citi Fintech CEO Heather Cox] to do something on a global scale that we believe can truly have a major impact on people’s financial lives was particularly compelling.”

Details on Citi Fintech are limited. The project officially launched last month, though people close to Citi say it’s been in development for almost a year. In an internal memo announcing Citi Fintech, global consumer banking head Stephen Bird said the unit will focused on building the “bank of tomorrow, a smartphone-centric business model that delivers a radically simple, connected customer experience.”

Cox indicated in an emailed statement to Quartz that attracting talent is critical to the project. ”We said our first order of business was assembling a team of world-class talent, and we meant it. There are big thinkers with vision and skilled executers with drive.”

Bird said in the memo that the project will focus on services consumers use on a regular basis: spending, borrowing, saving, investing, and protecting their finances. The US launch for the project is tentatively schedule for the fourth quarter of 2016, with a global rollout to follow.

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