Citi experimented with Ripple

by | Jan 10, 2020

Citigroup Inc. or Citi is an American multinational investment bank and financial services corporation headquartered in New York City.

Citigroup is ranked 3rd on the list of largest banks in the United States and, alongside JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, it is one of the Big Four banks of the United States. It is ranked 30th on the Fortune 500 as of 2019. Citigroup has over 200 million customer accounts, does business in more than 160 countries and has 214,000 employees.

Huge institutions like Citi go to great lengths to stay huge, and keeping up with innovation and technology is one of their priorities.

It was revealed back in 2015 that Citi had been experimenting with blockchain technology for some time now.

Ken Moore, head of Citi Innovation Labs told IBTimes UK during a technology briefing that the bank had been looking at distributed ledger technology for “the last few years” and has amassed a skilled team.

“We have up and running three separate systems within Citi now that actually deploy blockchain distributed ledger technologies. They are all within the labs just now so there is no real money passing through these systems yet, they are at a pre-production level to be clear. We also have an equivalent to bitcoin up and running, again within the labs, so we can mine what we call a ‘Citicoin‘, for want of a better term. It’s in the labs, but it’s to make sure we are at the leading edge of this technology and that we can exploit the opportunities within it.”

More details on the three systems were never revealed, but Rakesh Yadav, who acted as the Head of Application Development at WorldLink (Citi) from 2013 to 2017 revealed on his LinkedIn profile that during that time he was:

“Leading innovation in Digital Payment strategy for International Payment utilizing BlockChain technology e.g. CitiCoin. & experimentation project with stack like Ripple Labs, HyperLedger, & its relevance in Corporate Banking.”

Out of the three projects mentioned, Citi did make announcements for two of them. It announced that it joined HyperLedger and also leveraged Chain for a Citi – Nasdaq payment solution.

This confirms Ken Moore’s statement and reveals that Citi has experimented with Ripple. The Ripple-Citi connection is also confirmed by Manthan Sheth, Vice President, Digital Money & Blockchain Initiative at Citi Innovation Labs from December 2014 to December 2016. According to Mr. Shesh, he worked on 3 Cryptocurrency Proof of Concept Projects at the Treasury and Trade Services Innovation Lab in Dublin. In one of the projects, they were:

“Building a payments rail (using Ripple protocol and platform) to expedite cross border and cross currency payments for Citi Institutional Clients.”

This means that Citi has indeed experimented with Ripple with an aim of using Ripple for cross border payments.

Since then, Citi has abandoned its Citicoin plans as there were other more effective and efficient ways of making improvements in payments. More specifically Citi’s innovation lab chief, Gulru Atak explained that:

“Based on our learnings from that experiment we actually decided to make meaningful improvements in the existing rails by leveraging the payments ecosystem and within that ecosystem, we are considering the fintechs as well or the regulators around the world as well, including SWIFT”.

She then continued to explain that to completely change a cross-border payment network with blockchain-enabled technology, one would have to on-board all the world’s banks

“If we are talking about cross border payments, how many banks do we have across the world – and how many of them are already on-boarded on SWIFT? And how long has it taken SWIFT to onboard all those banks?”

This opinion was also reflected in Citi’s report “Bank of the Future”, published in March 2018. In this report, it is mentioned that “the toughest hurdle Ripple faces is getting banks to adopt their technology and consequently build a network, which existing players (SWIFT) already have.”

In 2019 we have seen RippleNet grow its network considerably, while utilizing other companies like Finastra to onboard more banks.

With proof that Citi experimented with Ripple it would be interesting to see if Citi has been quietly using RippleNet, if they are waiting for the network to grow or if the experiment didn’t lead to a partnership.