The summer after my sophomore year I interned at Citi in their Sophomore Leadership Program. The Sophomore Leadership Program rotates specifically through Citi’s Institutional Clients Group (ICG). The Institutional Clients Group is comprised of diverse professionals located in more than 100 countries, collectively representing an international network of financial skills and capabilities serving targeted clients. The clients include top corporations, financial institutions and governments in countries and jurisdictions around the world, and the mission of the Citi’s ICG is to help them achieve their goals. The ICG does so by providing strategic, financing and operational insights and executing tailored product/service solutions, both across borders and domestically.
When starting the I&E certificate, I thought my interest in innovation was at odds with my desire to work and be trained at a large corporation before working at a startup. After beginning my coursework and being introduced to what innovation and entrepreneurship really means, I realized a huge part of innovation in our world comes from everyday innovation within existing companies. I chose to do this experience because it is a unique program that really enables one to understand innovating from within a company. As I learned in my I&E coursework, innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meets unarticulated needs or existing market needs. This internship was a rotation program that allowed me to understand at a high level how Citi meets its clients’ needs through different business capabilities. Furthermore, the internship also included a summer-long project to evaluate and pitch innovative and creative ways to improve Citi’s relationship with one of their top-tier clients. For this project we were tasked with creating new ideas and adapting old practices to better Citi’s relationship with an important client. My team was able to start from a high-level overview of Citi’s relationship with the client and ultimately present specific innovative solutions that Citi could develop to better service the client.
During the internship, I was exposed to ICG’s four groups: Banking, Capital Markets and Advisory, Markets and Securities Services, Private Bank and Treasury and Trade Solutions. I specifically rotated through Capital Markets Origination, Corporate Banking, and Markets & Securities services. During each rotation, I was able to get involved in client work, which included analyzing information and creating decks specific to whichever division I was currently rotating through. For example, while working in the Corporate Banking division, I worked with the team to understand how Citi was currently “covering” each client, and evaluate areas and opportunities to better serve each client, through either better use of an existing product or a potential new product innovation.
From this experience, I really wanted to understand how to use creativity and innovative thinking with a large and established organization. The first step in achieving this goal is understanding where innovation comes from in such organizations. During the internship in the ICG divisions, I scratched the surface of this by learning how Citi’s business divisions interact to create one comprehensive platform tailored to each client. The rotational aspect of the Sophomore Leadership Program was critical to my ability to gain this high-level understanding of each business. The team project was evidence that I had truly come to understand Citi’s comprehensive business, as we needed to evaluate how each business division could better serve each client. However, while it was possible to pitch existing products to clients to better meet their needs, I realized that the more exciting innovation of new financial products originates from more specific and specialized teams. For example, during the internship I was able to attend a speaker event and hear from the Chief Innovation Officer at Citi Ventures. Citi Ventures is “committed to charting the unknown in a world of unprecedented change and disruption”. They invest in innovative startups and work with the innovation ecosystem to experiment with next-generation technologies. One of Citi Ventures’ initiatives that captured my attention was D10X, which is aimed at empowering Citi employees to discover and build new, disruptive solutions that aim to be exponentially better for Citi clients. This initiative is described as: “Grounded in the principles of venture capital and Lean Startup methodology, D10X is Citi’s internal growth model. This global program encourages internal entrepreneurship by empowering Citi employees to build, test, and launch new solutions that are exponentially better for our clients”. When I was able to hear the Citi Ventures speaker talk about the exciting projects they work on, I learned that it is very possible to innovate and engage in internal entrepreneurship within large corporations, but that this often originates from specific initiatives and teams such as Citi Ventures rather than working in a more generic business division. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the Sophomore Leadership Program because I was able to take away a better understanding of what kinds of opportunities for innovation exist at large companies and how to seek them out. I also learned how important having this innovative outlet is to me in my personal work fulfillment, because it is an aspect that I definitely missed while working in a more traditional banking division.
On top of my every-day responsibilities, there was a summer-long project component that tasked my team of five other interns with evaluating and pitching innovative and creative ways to improve Citi’s relationship with one of their top-tier clients. Due to the open-ended nature of my team’s project, we started off by trying to really understand the client’s business, including analyzing its current portfolio companies, its target customers, the competitive landscape in each industry, and how the client differentiates itself. We also considered the future strategic direction of the company and how its needs will change in the future. Next, we focused on understanding the capabilities of each ICG division and how each business is currently meeting the client’s needs. Once my team developed this crucial foundation, we switched our focus to what solutions we can offer. Upon reflection, this idea generation phase was my favorite aspect of the project. I really enjoyed the ability to brainstorm creatively even when working on a project for a very large and structured organization. One innovative idea I generated with my team was to implement a specific Treasury & Trade product in one of the client’s new portfolio companies. This product provides more efficient payment methods for brick-and-mortar stores. This was not one of the most obvious potential solutions to present, as the product is typically only utilized for companies that deal with more online business. The brainstorming sessions with my team were very productive at coming up with new and innovative ways to leverage existing products. Ultimately, my team was successful in creating an integrated M&A and product advisory strategy for the client. At the end of the summer, we presented our recommendations to Citi senior executives, including the President of Citi, which was a great opportunity to practice how to pitch strategic solutions, similar to the type of presentation that was taught/encouraged in the I&E Keystone class.
While working on this project, one challenge my team had to overcome was that we were all rotating through different divisions and had different working hours during the summer. I really had to learn how to communicate effectively as a part of a team in order to accomplish everything from as simple as getting everyone to agree on a meeting schedule to making larger decisions about the future direction fo the project. This communication spanned beyond just coordinating meeting times, and was also crucial in understanding the strengths of each team player so that we could delegate tasks accordingly. After initially struggling, my team made sure to really listen to who wanted to tackle the financial model portion, who wanted to tackle the product portion, and who wanted to design the deck. This communication allowed the team to really capitalize on each person’s strengths. Another challenge that my team had to overcome was the unstructured nature of the task. While this allowed us to be creative and explore many different directions, it also left a lot of room for differing ideas and sometimes conflicting opinions. For example, right from the beginning the team agreed that it would be a good idea to explore different M&A opportunities as part of our pitch. However, the client had been focusing on growing its presence in a few different industries, and my team was deeply divided about which market opportunity was the best to pursue. We were able to overcome this by setting up meetings with people within the bank who had experience working with the senior executives of the client company to gain more information about the client’s future goals and objectives, and in this way we were able to make a more informed decision collectively. Ultimately, I found that communicating effectively, having a position attitude, and really being able to collaborate with my team was crucial in staying on track with our progress, and in the end, really allowed for our success.
I am specifically pursuing the Social Innovation & Policy pathway through the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. My coursework at Duke has allowed me to learn about the more “obvious” examples of social innovation that originate from social enterprises, nonprofit efforts, and startups. My experience at Citi allowed me to explore how social innovation could originate from a larger corporation. I was first able to do this within the divisions I was rotating through. For example, while I was working in Capital Markets Origination, I was able to work on the multi-million-dollar issuance of investment grade “green bonds”. The issuance of green bonds allows companies to use the funds raised for climate and environmental projects. They are intended to support corporate sustainability. These types of bonds are rising in popularity among corporations and are one type of innovative financial instrument I was able to work with during my time at Citi. Another similar type of bond is a “social bond”, which are use-of-proceeds bonds that raise funds for projects with positive social outcomes. Social bonds have not gained the same popularity and prevalence of green bonds but show increased corporate attention to financial tools that enable companies to reach their ESG goals. I did not initially realize how difficult it was to change the status quo of large corporations. Many were either not aware or not interested in the innovative green/social bonds, or skeptical of their potential profitability. Particularly in financial services, one barrier to social innovation is a deep distrust of financial tools that promise both profitability and positive social impact. I learned that I greatly enjoyed working with such innovative financial tools intended to make positive social impact. It was encouraging to see them gaining prominence in the corporate world. However, I realized that I was more interested in working on the actual origination of such innovative products, rather than just the execution of the deals.
This experience has had a great impact on my career decisions, as I have prioritized working for a company that does not just offer products that support social innovation, but for one that has a team specifically designated to it. While I learned many smaller technical things during this internship, this was the biggest takeaway I learned and has really shaped how I view my potential future career arch. The most important thing that I learned in this experience is that I do not just want to find ways to be innovative and creative within a company, but rather that I want to work for a company that is innovative at its core. While I am glad I had the experience of gaining valuable experience and training at large financial institution, I feel like there are better career paths for me that really focus on the initial phase of innovation that I really enjoy. Check out my artifact linked below to learn about more key take-aways from this experience!
While I am not able to provide a part of my actual project from the summer due to compliance reasons, my journey through the internship this summer can be captured in a deck I created (linked below).