Back in 1983, there was a major organizational realignment in the New York Banking Division.
Historically, there were 6 “independently-operating” Regions in the NY metropolitan area: Brooklyn/Staten Island, Queens, Long Island, Bronx/Westchester/Rockland, Lower Manhattan (below 42nd St) & Upper Manhattan.
Each Region had its own branches, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service, Investigations, Credit/Collections Ops, Branch Ops, Check Processing & Statement Rendition areas. Now, of course, they all came under the Citi Retail umbrella (branch appearance, advertising, legal, loss prevention, etc.) but generally, for all the day-to-day stuff, they were on their own.
Then, in September, it was reduced to 4 through consolidation.
While Lower Manhattan & Upper Manhattan remained the same, combining existing regions created Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island (B/LI/SI) and Queens/Bronx/Westchester/Rockland.
Then came 1987 when the New York Bank decided to “go completely functional”, scrapping the geographical model entirely.
Yes, the “C” in Citibank has ALWAYS stood for “Change”.
All the branches were now combined into the NY Retail Bank (headed up by Anne Slattery).
All Marketing departments were centralized into one consolidated unit; the name of the Head of Marketing currently escapes me (it was a female, but I can’t recall her name).
Joseph J. Redington III “JJR”, formerly the Regional Business Manager for Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island & “my big boss”, was now in charge of all back-office Operations.
I was still the Operations Manager for BLISI Customer Service & now, had to work very closely with the 3 other CitiPhone Units to “standardize our service offerings to the customers & the branches”.
Over time, many differences in how each area handled certain specific customer requests grew amongst the 4 units.
For example, in B/LI/SI, we would handle the customer’s Consumer Credit inquiries/requests ourselves while other units transferred the calls to their Credit Operations area to handle.
In certain customer situations, one CitiPhone Unit would transfer the call to the branch for resolution while another would resolve it in-house.
So we undertook a massive project effort to document every possible customer inquiry & request we would receive.
One group involved processes & procedures that were “internal to CitiPhone”, that is, we could decide amongst ourselves exactly how we wanted to handle the customer.
This first group addressed 24 different procedures for which we needed to come to agreement.
The other group covered those procedures involving the branches, in one way or another. For these items, we needed the Retail Bank’s concurrence on our proposals on how to handle them going forward.
(In B/LI/SI, I always took the position that whatever we touched, we would try to service the customer “in house”, that is, resolve the request without transferring the call nor referring the customer elsewhere for resolution.
In addition, we had different programs that actively “moved” inquiries/requests from customers who were already in the branch over “to the phones”. We always believed in assisting our branch partners on the servicing side so they could concentrate more of their limited resources against sales & revenue activities.
But not everyone maintained the same philosophical position nor managed things in a similar manner.)
And while one group strove to standardize 24 “internal to CitiPhone” processes, the team that had to work closely with the branches had well more than 165 items upon which to work!!!
The whole effort was dubbed “Common Practices”. The term “Best Practices” had yet to come into vogue, but, in reality, that was exactly what we were striving for.
(Years ago, people snored. Today, they suffer from sleep apnea.)
We tackled the 24 “internal-to-CitiPhone” items first. (Note: We handled hundreds of different inquiries & requests from customers…these 24 merely represented those where at least one CitiPhone unit did it differently than the others.)
I met with my 3 CitiPhone Operations Manager peers to review the items & come to agreement on one “common practice” for each process/procedure.
It took almost 2 full days before we all signed the treaty…one of the most exhausting (and frustrating!!!) experiences in my life!
Everyone was just as stubbor, er, steadfast as me that “their way was the best way”! I tried convincing the group that our goal…besides coming to agreement on a standardized process…was to do the right thing for THE CUSTOMER!!!
We were all extremely knowledgeable leaders…as well as independent, pig-headed & of course, “perfect & without sin”!
We all believed that OUR process was the best one possible as we had probably created it ourselves. Besides, if it wasn’t the best, we would have already changed it ourselves at some point in the past, no?
But when all 4 of us think the same way…”I’m right!”, “I’m right!”, “I’m right! & “I’m right!”…it gets kinda difficult.
I don’t believe that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was available to “negotiate” due to some scheduling conflicts. We didn’t have a moderator or project leader with us.
So we battled!
Eventually, we came to agreement on a final, official process for each of the 24 “internal-to-CitiPhone” items.
For the 165 or so items for which we needed to review with, and get approval from, the Retail Bank, I had already volunteered to represent ALL of CitiPhone in dealing with our partner organization.
Not that I didn’t love my counterparts in the other CitiPhone areas, but I wasn’t interested in spending forever on this initiative.
At the same “24 items in 2 days” rate, it would take us over two weeks to resolve!!!
No way, Jose.
I scheduled a 4-hour meeting with the 6 AOMs/Area Operations Managers (responsible for everything other than sales in the branches), all of them extremely experienced, incredibly-knowledgeable & really “grizzled veterans” who knew their stuff, inside & out: Mike Gaffney from Bklyn/SI…Bill Mullins from Long Island…Tom Grant from Upper Manhattan…Norm Merritt from Lower Manhattan…John Healy from Queens…and Tom Gearity from Bronx/Westchester.
1 against 6…I actually liked those odds!
I also knew that I would be endorsing the way that MY CitiPhone unit handled these requests that involved the branches so I was very comfortable in defending/promoting/pushing for the recommended procedures.
We met in Manhattan @ 330 Madison, rolled up our sleeves & immediately got to work.
I told them of the 2-day marathon session that CitiPhone needed to agree on (only) 24 items.
We had 165+ items & after they got this glazed-over looks in their eyes, I guaranteed them that this process would go much more smoothly!
I then went over to the conference room door & pretended to lock it…”Ain’t nobody gettin’ away, ya hear? We’re gonna finish this & we’re gonna finish it on time!”
We sailed through all the items!
A few items evoked some discussion amongst the group, but there were no issues of “ownership” present. No problems of “My way is best!” to overcome. Everyone was helpful & cooperative.
And to be totally frank & honest, my proposed process for each of the 165+ items was quite “branch-friendly”.
If it was possible to keep the call & the customer in CitiPhone (without suffering any deterioration in service quality nor any increase in risk), then that was really best…for the customer, the branches & the bank.
And that was it. We completed all our agenda items with over an hour & a half to spare! They were so great to work with…incredibly so!
I followed up by documenting every agreed-upon item in an e-mail to get their approval & to allow them to share the information with their branches (specifically, the Branch Managers & the Branch Operations Managers) as well as their senior leadership teams.
It was one of my better efforts in my entire career. I had already worked closely with Mike Gaffney (Bklyn/SI) & Bill Mullins (LI) as we all worked for the same Region previously, but this effort also afforded me the opportunity to create some excellent working relationships with the other 4 AOMs.
Got a lot of great stuff done rather painlessly & strengthened relations with my buddies from Retail Bank.
As my career took me to different places & positions, this whole “Common Practices” effort proved invaluable to me.
After leaving CitiPhone in ‘88 to head up One Bank Practices (later, Process Improvement & Development), I was tasked with doing very similar work, but, now on a national level.
Citibank had bought a number of failed Savings & Loans and converted them to Citibanks to various states: Citibank-Illinois, Citibank-California & Citibank-Florida. We also took existing Citibanks in DC/Maryland, upstate NY & Maine and brought them under one leadership/organizational umbrella.
I had to work on developing & coordinating Common Practices for all of National Operations’ areas (Investigations, Credit Ops, Branch Ops, CitiPhone, etc.).
And then, when I transferred to the USCC in ‘93, I eventually became Service Director for the site & amongst my many responsibilities was serving as the main liaison with the entire U.S. Retail Bank.
It’s great when you can look back on your career & relish all the relationships (& friendships) you made with such wonderful people from across the country. I always took great pride in all the time & hard work I invested in ACTIVELY building, and strengthening, these incredible bonds with all my partner organizations.
The saddest day in my life (aside from the deaths of Laurie & my Dad) was the day I left Citi in November 2006.
I will always regret it as I still believe that I’ll be a Citibanker until the day I die.
As always, thank you so very much for listening!