Citibank ‘Opens The Door’ To Beacons With Gimbal

Actually, Citibank app users will soon be able to to open branch doors after hours as part of limited beacon installation program currently being tested in New York.

Swiping a bank card for access to an ATM after hours is a small inconvenience, but it’s one that Citibank is trying to erase through the use of beacons.

In partnership with proximity marketing platform Gimbal, which is providing the beacon hardware and software, Citibank plans to expand a test of the Bluetooth devices at as many as 10 branches in Manhattan.

Initial tests began in March at two Citibank branches, including one of its newest banking centers at 52nd St. and 5th Ave.

Balancing Caution and Convenience

Citibank and Gimbal have been in discussions about incorporating location technology and beacons in conjunction with its branches and mobile apps for roughly two years.

Since that time, retail stores, outdoor and indoor entertainment venues, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, airport terminals, and pharmacies/wellness centers have all been experimenting with beacons, the financial services industry has exhibited a bit more caution.

In addition, since being spun out of Qualcomm Retail Solutions in May 2014, San Diego-based Gimbal has worked with a number of high-profile clients such as the NFL, South By Southwest, Live Nation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, GameStop, the US Open, as well as agency and platform partners including Razorfish, Ogilvy, ShopAdvisor, Verve, and others after initially attracting attention for installations throughout AEG’s network of concert and sports venues, including The Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“Gimbal and Citi’s relationship goes back a few years, stemming back to when we were still inside Qualcomm,” the Gimbal rep said. “When we first lauched our beacon offering, we worked with Citi  and the developer community on some early hackathon concepts helping them to evaluate different use cases as to how proximity and location could be leveraged by Citi for engaging its customers.”

Some of these early concepts included marketing activities such as the Citi bike-share program at SXSW where beacons were communicating with users to encourage them to use the bikes and tweet out experiences.

“We have now moved to a more utility purpose use case that provides value to Citi customers who are looking for faster and more convenient access to ATM branches without having to reach into their wallet or purse to pull their debit card on a city street,” said Gimbal. “We expect Citi will continue to find additional useful ways to engage consumers leveraging Gimbal for precise location and proximity engagement.”

Still, considering that personal banking information is so sensitive, privacy concerns have led many financial institutions to feel a degree of uncertainty about the applicability of beacons, as Bank of America’s Lou Paskalis told GeoMarketing recently.

“Citi came to Gimbal with a very specific problem in mind. Particularly in cold weather areas, they had customers who had complained about the hassle of reaching into their belongings to find their Citi card that would give them access to a brand or ATM,” Gimbal added. “While many of our enterprise retail and venue accounts are more interested in the engagement and analytic capabilities our solution provides, Citi wanted to initially solve for this problem and make a part of their customer journey more simple by turning to mobile.

Given this deployment was being used in high value asset locations, such as accessing bank ATM branches, Citi needed to ensure that the beacon solution met their security requirements from beacon transmission, to SDK implementation to cloud management interface.

“We were faced with tougher scrutiny on security assessment across our entire stack in order to support a banking client,” Gimbal told us. “We are proud to have passed banking level security requirements and scrutiny and feel its a testament to our engineering team who have been focused on building a secure, enterprise grade platform.

“In regards to finalizing this current implementation,  a couple of initial hurdles needed to be cleared for Gimbal to be involved, such as proof of concept and passing strict security regulations,” the rep added. “All that to say, today’s announcement is something we are very excited about and we are excited about other ways our solutions can be incorporated to enhance the banking experience even further for Citi customers.”

The Keys To Winning Connected Consumers

Despite what its competitors’ wariness, Citibank feels the time is right to offer beacons as a “mobile key” that will meet the demand of those customers who are particularly tech savvy.

“Beacons installed at select Citibank branch locations use Bluetooth technology to allow eligible customers gain cardless entry into ATM lobbies after hours using their iPhone or Apple Watch,” said a Gimbal representative. “Citi customers who opt in can also receive location-based customized messaging. Attached is an illustration of the features.”

Citibank’s use of beacon technology is just the latest in a series of new technologies the bank is rolling out and exploring, Gimbal noted. At Citi Smart Banking branches, customers can use iPads and enhanced ATMs to conduct transactions typically reserved for bank tellers. The bank also launched a voice biometrics solution to seamlessly and automatically verify a customer’s identity within the first few seconds of a customer’s call, in addition to testing biometric, cardless ATMs.

GeoMarketing’s Beacon Test

In comparison to biometrics, using beacons to open a door to mobile users after hours is a fairly simple use case, though the Bluetooth devices are also being configured to send users “light messaging.”

In a quick test that GeoMarketing took on Friday, we found that a beacon-triggered notification mentioning that we were in proximity to 52nd St. branch popped up on our iPhone roughly half a block away from the entrance. The message then offered to unlock the door with the tap of a button within the message several paces away from the branch. (A later test near the same branch saw the same message pop up on our Apple Watch as we turned the corner from 6th Avenue on to 52nd St.)

A Patient Approach

Citibank estimates that roughly 450,000 of its customers are eligible. But as it looks to seeing how — or whether — to bring beacon technology to its roughly  U.S. branch network, the company plans to continue its deliberate approach.

For one thing, it will take time to educate Citibank branch staffs about the beacon usage, though the banks will use Gimbal’s Series 21 beacons, which cost roughly $30 and run on four AA batteries that can charge the devices for close to two years.

Educating consumers will also take some time. For example, in order for the beacon door-unlock function to work, an app user’s location services setting must be switched to “always” in order for the Bluetooth signal to reach the smartphone before the consumer approaches the branch.

Still, while at least one study has indicated that most people have never even heard of a beacon, that may not be an issue for Citibank as the other industries above continue to advance the use of location technology.

In any case, Citibank knows that the adoption of beacons by consumers will have to pass through early adopters first.

“Its not about the beacons for consumers or staffers; it’s about the experience enabled in the mobile app by the beacons that help consumer seamlessly access Citi’s ATM branch locations,” Gimbal countered. “Consumer’s don’t care that its a Bluetooth beacon that’s helping them quickly gain access to these locations. They are more interested in the utility experience they get from using the Citi mobile app.

“We endeavor to make the beacon’s unobtrusive and serving their utility purpose,” Gimbal’s rep continued. “The beacons are meant to trigger real-time engagement with the consumer that should be timely and useful.  Consumers need to be educated that the Citi mobile app provides additional benefits beyond mobile banking as it now enables access into deployed ATM branches.

“Thankfully, our beacons are easily installed, and once they are in, there is practically no maintenance involved,” Gimbal concluded. “With beacons that are either powered by USB ports or have with multi-year battery life, once the product is deployed, corporate can easily manage and view performance from their beacon networks remotely. For the consumer side, as long as it (1) works for them and (2) they understand what they need to do to participate (e.g., opt-in, keep bluetooth on, etc.) that should be all they need.”

Ultimately, as the convenience of door unlocking and other features become commonplace, so will the realization that beacons are about sending alerts and allowing consumers to choose what app tools and messages they want. After all, as more consumers come to rely on location-tech connections at Starbucks and Rite Aid, they’ll come to demand the same abilities from their banking apps.

In the meantime, as consumers continue the frustrating process of opening a bank’s door with repeated swipes to get to an ATM, the desire to use their phone for that and other digital-to-physical functions are expected to become gradually more natural and expected.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.