Citi executive pulls James Bond stunts to woo China’s rich

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A person in a tuxedo sits at a mountaintop bar. His telephone buzzes and he springs into motion, getting into ski boots and racing down the slopes. He is Buckley, Darren Buckley, head of shopper banking for Citigroup China, and likewise the star of the financial institution’s James Bond-inspired advertising marketing campaign.

In a dozen quick movies posted on Citifinancial institutionChina’s official account on Douyin, the Chinese iteration of TikTookay, Buckley’s 007-style character rides bikes, masters kung fu and pulls hearth out of skinny air. He’s usually in pursuit of a glamorous, dark-haired lady, performed by Buckley’s real-life spouse, Aphitchaya Boonkhong.

“We are a highly regulated business, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be fun,” Buckley stated in an interview. After doing his first spot in June, “I said, you know what, why don’t we play around with this.”

Having a senior banking executive star in a dozen on-line advertisements marks the latest unconventional bid for consideration by a monetary companies agency keen to make an impression on China’s rising investor class. Fund managers and analysis analysts have launched stay streams, banks and brokerages have been slashing charges and providing free items, all in an effort to stand out in a crowded market.

Citi’s advertising staff got here up with a video to appeal to the web viewers, and Buckley volunteered. The 20-second video posted on June 4 garnered 2.3 million views in per week.

“There were so many comments,” stated Buckley, together with customers who complimented Citi and people who stated he regarded like Bond. During one prolific Saturday, he wrote eight little scripts and despatched them to his advertising staff.

Citi is considered one of 100 banks, together with international rivals like HSBC Holdings Plc. and Standard Chartered Plc., pitching Chinese customers, a lot of whom have already got a card from one of many nation’s state-owned banks. As of June, 2020, the highest 20 Chinese banks managed 99% of China’s bank card issuance, in accordance to Dong Zheng, an impartial researcher who has coated China’s bank card trade for over 20 years. That leaves the personal establishments to scrap over the remaining 1% or to persuade customers they want a second or third card.

For Citi, the world’s largest credit-card issuer, playing cards are seen partly as a software to appeal to prosperous new clients after which to promote them different companies. The belongings managed by China’s wealthiest persons are anticipated to double from 2019 to 116 trillion yuan ($18 trillion) by 2025, in accordance to UBS Global Research.

“Wealth management is the crucial battleground for financial services firms in China, be it local or foreign,” stated Zhang Xiaoxi, a Beijing-based analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics. “You need to find your niche and differentiator. Credit cards could be a starting point.”

The recognition of telephones and social media has additionally given new attain to abroad establishments, which have solely a tiny bodily presence in contrast with China’s large state banks. Across Asia, Citi has issued over 16 million playing cards, with a couple of in three playing cards acquired digitally. In China, all playing cards had been acquired digitally because the financial institution not had any direct gross sales, in accordance to Buckley.

Citi’s viral movies promote its Prestige Card, which requires candidates to have a minimum of 30,000 yuan of month-to-month revenue. Sign-up incentives embody greater than 500,000 bonus factors or fancy carry-on baggage. Those perks are good, Dong stated, however they don’t stand out.

“To get their attention, you need the visual elements on social media — which is quick, powerful and widespread in China,” he stated.

So far, Citi’s marketing campaign has gotten loads of suggestions, producing applause on-line and compliments from clients and institutional shoppers. Coca Cola’s Greater China and Korea president Curt Ferguson joined in for one of many movies. When Buckley spoke at a latest convention in Shanghai, different contributors jokingly referred to as him James Bond.

More importantly, the financial institution’s native wealth enterprise has grown regardless of the pandemic. Buckley credit Douyin and different social media campaigns with bringing in new customers, and the variety of shoppers with greater than $1 million in belongings on the financial institution grew 60% in 2020.

Meanwhile, Buckley hasn’t been ready to persuade his boss, Citigroup China head Christine Lam, to play M within the Bond sequence. The advertising staff outdoors China is but to embrace the technique for a world viewers.

“At this stage, they don’t know what to make of them,” stated Buckley, a 28-year veteran of the financial institution. “They like them. They’re surprised by them. Maybe one day they’ll start using them.”

–With help from Bei Hu.

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