How Citibank Built a $198 Billion Empire from Humble Beginnings

From humble beginnings to one of America’s largest banks discover the story of Citibank and see some of the services it offers customers.

There are several important factors to consider when deciding which bank is right for you. Gaining a bit of insight into a bank's corporate culture, history, and mission can definitely help if you're considering becoming a customer.

From its humble beginnings over 200 years ago, Citibank has over 200 million customer accounts today and is the fourth largest bank in the United States by asset size.

It built this empire through innovative thinking, focusing on what it does best, and building strong customer relationships.

It all started back in 1812 when the City Bank of New York was founded in New York City.

Citibank’s Origins

Citibank has come a long way since its early days as City Bank of New York

When a group of New York-based merchants was tired of having to bank in Boston, Philadelphia, or Baltimore they made a petition at the state assembly to start a new bank.

These merchants were friends with U.S. President James Madison, which might have helped a bit with the City Bank of New York's approval in 1812.

Innovation is the key to Citibank's continued growth

Unlike several rivals, Citibank made it through the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. It continued to face setbacks and overcame them through innovation.

For instance, in 1967 it popularized the credit care when it introduced the First National City Charge Service, soon popularly known as the "Everything Card."

You might not have heard of it, but you probably have heard of what it eventually became … a little credit card company called Mastercard.

Then, in the 1870s the bank introduced the Automated Teller Machine (or ATM) to its customers and to the world.

Consumer banking was forever changed by the ATM.

People no longer had to squeeze in all their banking activities within the notoriously tight "banker's hours."

With the introduction of ATM's, they could now access their accounts and money 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Citibank was also at the forefront of the online banking revolution. When the World Wide Web was introduced in the 1990s, Citibank was among the first banks to provide customers secure access to their accounts online.

More Internet Users are Banking Online (2018)

The result was a massive success. By 1998, Citibank was the single biggest bank in America.

It was the number-one issuer of credit cards, with customers in over 90 countries.

The 2000s was the worst decade for Citibank

Two disasters struck the financial world at the beginning of the 21st century, and Citibank had to overcome both.

Citibank had a front row seat for the dot-com crash

The "Dot-com crash" happened in the years following the turn of the millennium, after a period of rapid stock market growth fueled by the invention of the Internet.

It turned out that the growth was artificial.

After burning through millions of start-up dollars, a lot of dot-com companies disappeared and went bankrupt.

The money of the people who invested in their stocks also disappeared.

The 2008 subprime mortgage crisis was Citibank's lowest point

Not long after the dot-com "tech-wreck," came an even worse event in the history of Citibank and the American economy.

After laying off 8% of its entire workforce in 2007, Citigroup announced it was losing billions due to the subprime mortgage crisis. The problem proved too immense for the bank to overcome on its own.

Citigroup had to ask the U.S. government for three separate bailouts to avoid collapsing.

It received $45 billion total in government bailouts to keep the company operating.

For Citibank, those were dark times indeed.

A Story of Recovery and Success

The bailout saved Citi and turned a profit for the government

Luckily for the government, the $45 billion government cash bailout Citi received to save it from collapse was paid back in the form of company stocks.

Paid back in full, with interest. The U.S. government sold its Citigroup stocks for $57 billion in 2011.

While the Treasury Department received $900 million in insurance payments from the company for protecting its portfolio during those tough times.

After the dust cleared, what resulted was a $13-billion-dollar profit for the American government.

Citibank was successfully saved by the bailout it received and managed to pay it off in the end.

It continued on its path to success and growth despite experiencing severe challenges to its business and reputation.

Citi has made some changes for the better

After the crisis, leaders at the 200-plus-year-old company asked themselves what Citibank does well and what it shouldn't do at all.

Streamlining its global operations. The decision led to some restructuring of the company and some trimming back of its operations.

International banking operations are being scaled back to focus on the United States, Mexico, and Asia.

Other services not considered to be at the core of banking have been split off from Citibank by the parent company.

It chose to do one thing, and does it well. Citibank has since been concentrating entirely on its core banking business, and the results have been impressive.

Although it's no longer the biggest bank in America Citibank remains highly sought after for its banking services, in particular, its credit card offerings.

With the ever-growing number of businesses, companies, and individuals it has helped grow financially, Citibank continues to live up to its stated mission.

They believe in serving "as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress."

How the Company Works

Citibank is concentrating on what it does best—offering its customers a full range of banking services and products. The result is the $198 billion banking empire it has become today.

The company has been proud of the huge success of its operations as the banker for some of the biggest multinational corporations in the word.

It has also regained a strong reputation as an excellent bank for those needing personal banking services and products.

Personal Banking

Citibank has been putting the needs of its customers first throughout its history.

The customer is the reason why the company created the very first Automated Teller Machines (ATM) and entered online banking.

Today Citibank continues to make banking accessible and convenient for its customers.

A Citibank ATM should never be far away. There is a Citibank ATM in every 7-Eleven store in the USA.

You can also find one at Costco, Duane Reade, Target, and CVS.

Customers get to use Citibank ATMs across the country with no fee.

Multiple banking options. There are five banking account packages offered by Citibank.

Entry-level account. The Access account is the most simple and straightforward. There is no initial deposit required or minimum balance.

The only problem with the Access account is that you can't write checks.

Gold standard accounts. At the other end of the spectrum of Citibank banking accounts are the CitiGold and Citi Priority packages.

These respectively require a $50,000 and a $200,000 minimum monthly balance to qualify.

Stick to the basics. One of the more straightforward accounts offered by Citibank is the Basic Banking package.

To qualify you need to have a $1,500 minimum monthly balance.

Or you can just use the account to pay one bill and make one direct deposit per month.

The best choice for rewards. It's possible to earn Citibank's ThankYou Rewards points just by doing your banking with the Citibank checking account.

You need to have a minimum $10,000 monthly balance in all of your Citibank accounts to qualify.

People with these accounts earn interest on their balance and also earn ThankYou Rewards for doing simple banking activities.

Earn points for doing practically nothing. Setting up direct deposits and automatic bill payments earn you points each month.

You can earn 450 ThankYou Rewards points every month for just paying a bill and making a direct deposit.

Still on the cutting edge of digital banking. Citibank continues to push the envelope for digital banking services.

Of course, you can still bank online to pay your bills and manage your accounts.

Citibank's Apps Rate Below the Industry Average (2017)

Today Citibank also has banking options for smartphone users.

You can add your Citi debit card to a mobile wallet for even more convenience when shopping or dining.

The camera on your mobile device can be used to photograph and deposit checks.

The secure phone app allows person-to-person payments, meaning you can easily split bills or settle-up with a friend on-the-spot.

Credit Cards

One of the keys to Citibank's success today is based on its domination of the credit card industry.

Citibank ranks #1 in active credit card accounts in the U.S.A.

In fact, Citibank has more than 100,000,000 credit cards in circulation in the United States alone.

That's the equivalent of a credit card account for one out of every three Americans.

The story of Citibank is one where the company succeeded because it stuck to what it knew best, and it put the interests of its customers first.

The company's dominance of the credit card industry today reflects this success story.

Credit cards for every profile. Citibank has a big selection of credit cards suitable for all credit scores and priorities.

Straightforward credit card. The Citi Simplicity card has no annual fee, no late fees, and a 21-month introductory period with 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers.

Unfortunately, there are no cash back or rewards points offered with this card.

The pick for cash back. If it's cash back you're looking for, the Citi Double Cash card is your best bet.

When you purchase something, you earn 1% cash back.

As soon as you pay off the balance it gets doubled for a total of 2% cash back on everything you buy.

Citi Diamond Preferred for balance transfers. If you're looking for a good Citi credit card for a balance transfer, the Citi Diamond Preferred card is a fantastic option.

There is a 0% intro APR period of 21 months. The 13.99% regular APR you'll get charged afterwards is the lowest Citibank offers on any of its credit cards.

More Affluent Americans Are Using Citi Credit Cards 2017

Get off the ground sooner with AAdvantage cards. Citibank has partnered with American Airlines to offer four different Citi/AAdvantage air mile rewards credit cards.

The cards offer from 25,000–60,000 in American Airline AAdvantage bonus air miles for signing up (as long as you spend enough in the first few months).

All come with an annual fee, including the whopping $450 charged annually for the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.

Branded cards for different stores and retailers. Citibank has also partnered with many retailers and companies to provide store brand cards.

Expedia+ cards give you the chance to earn serious points towards booking travel on

The Costco Anywhere Visa card is available for personal or business use.

You earn extra rewards for shopping at the wholesaler.

Citibank's AT&T Access card gives cardholders the chance to earn bonus ThankYou Reward points for shopping online.

Citibank's way of saying "thank you." As a company that has overcome many obstacles by consistently putting its customers first, it's not surprising that Citibank has a fantastic loyalty rewards program.

There are four credit cards for earning points through Citibank's rewards program.

With ThankYou from Citi, points can be redeemed for gift cards at popular retailers, travel through, shopping at, or for a statement credit.

The rewards you earn depends on the card you choose and the kinds of purchases you make.

You can earn one point per dollar spent on most purchases and double points for qualifying purchases.

For example, cardholders with the Citi ThankYou Preferred credit card get two ThankYou Rewards points for every dollar they spend at restaurants and select entertainment venues.

For all other purchases, you earn one point per dollar spent.

Redeeming ThankYou Rewards points is easy. Simply go to the ThankYou Rewards website and start choosing items to put in your shopping cart.

Your points will be applied to your purchase.

Or you can choose to use your ThankYou Reward points to get gift cards, or for booking travel through the Citi Travel Center.

Points can be used to pay bills or can be donated to charity.

If you want to turn them into cash each point will be worth half a cent, so 10,000 points can be redeemed for $50 cash.

No credit? No problem. Finally, if you have a bad credit score Citibank still has a credit card option for you.

Rebuild your score by putting a deposit down on a Citi Secured Mastercard, then use it sensibly.

Secured cards are a good way to steadily build up credit if you have none.

Here's a tip: if you want to improve your credit score to qualify to get your security deposit back, consider taking out a small personal loan.

Loans and Mortgages

Personal Loans

In keeping with its commitment to serving its customers, Citi still offers personal loans, but only to existing credit card, banking, or mortgage customers.

Citi personal loans range from $2,000–$50,000.

Applications for loans that are $30,000 and under can be submitted online. For a higher amount, you need to apply in person.

The loan interest rates are fairly low compared to competitors, between 8.99–16.49% APR.

To qualify for the lowest loan rates, you have to have a credit score of "Excellent" (750–850).

You also have to choose monthly automatic payments to get the best possible loan interest rate.


Citibank also offers mortgages for buying a home and you don't have to be an existing customer to get approved.

Existing customers do get a better deal though, with lower interest rates and discounted closing costs.

Investment Services

Like many banks, Citibank offers investment services for consumers.

The bank offers convenient one-stop shopping for all of your investment needs.

Advice is available if you need it. Accredited Citi Financial Advisors are available to offer financial planning services.

A Citibank Financial Advisor can also help with wealth management and transfer, international investment and portfolio management.

There's also support and tools for the solo-investor. If you prefer to manage your investments yourself, Citibank provides tools and resources for online trading through your accounts.

When you think you could use a little guidance, Citi Personal Wealth Management Advisors are available.

Diverse investment options are available. Other investment products available through Citibank include education savings plans, mutual funds, bonds, annuities, and retirement plans.

Expect to pay high fees. Even if you were to completely manage the investments you made through Citibank on your own, you'd still be paying high commissions.

If you make a broker-assisted stock trade or sale, the base rate is $39.95.

If you deal with more than 100 stocks at a time a per-share surcharge is charged.

Other service charges and fees include an annual brokerage fee and a $50 annual maintenance fee for customers with IRAs.

Offering insurance options and advice. You can also buy insurance through Citibank, including term life, disability, permanent life, and long-term care insurance.

Citi Financial Advisors are available to help you pick the right insurance for you and your family.

Benefit from an entire Citibank support team with exclusive Citigold status

For those customers who have a combined value of $200,000 or more in deposit, retirement, and investment accounts, Citibank offers the Citigold premium checking account.

The six-figure qualifying balance is much higher than you need for premium accounts with other banks.

In fact, $200,000 is ten times higher than the asset level you need to achieve to be included in some other banks' premium brackets.

Top Citibank customers receive comprehensive, personalized Citigold premium services

If you have the required minimum balance with Citibank, your Citigold membership includes the collaborative services of a Citigold Relationship Manager, and a Citi Personal Wealth Management Financial Advisor.

Lead your team to victory. Together the team provides comprehensive wealth planning and management and helps you maximize the benefits of Citibank's products and services.

If you have money, you can save money. Customers enrolled in the Citigold program also get savings in reduced and waived user fees for things like ATM transactions and foreign exchange transactions.

Travel perks included. Citigold members are provided with a concierge to support them when traveling, as well as special travel benefits, like access to Citigold lounges around the world.

From Humble Beginnings to Multi-Billion Dollar Empire

Citibank has worked hard to earn its reputation and grow its business.

The company has thrived in recent years and stands alone on top of the U.S. credit card industry.

Have you ever banked with Citibank?

What worked for you and what didn't?

Any great tips (or nightmares) to share with the rest of us?

Let us know in the comments below.

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