Recent legislative changes in Japan have
drawn attention to the importance of rewards programmes. Now, Citi
is expanding its reputation within this area with the launch of a
pan-regional online rewards portal that provides an enhanced
rewards offering. Titien Ahmad reports.

The rewards programme can be a winner or loser for card issuers. In
Japan, card issuers have had to reduce their redemption rates for
their card reward programmes to shore up sagging profits following
the lowered interest rate cap that resulted from the revision of
the money lending business law.

Under the revised scheme, Sumitomo Mitsui cardholders will need
5,000 points to qualify for a round trip ticket to any destination
in Japan. Previously only 1,500 points were needed. JCB and OMC
Card will stop awarding points to customers who use their credit
cards to top up their Edy prepaid cards.

Citibank, on the other hand, has taken a different approach, and
has announced the pan-regional launch of its online rewards portal,, incorporating an enhanced rewards offering.
The website has been rolled out in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand,
Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia. Other markets around
Asia-Pacific will follow suit.

“As the leader in innovation for retail banking in Asia, Citibank
is pleased to introduce the industry’s most novel and creative
customer rewards website,” said Surath Chatterjee, Citibank’s
Asia-Pacific regional head of card products. “Other rewards
programmes today are commoditised and generic, with identical items
being offered through similar processes. At Citibank, our goal is
to make our cardholders feel truly rewarded. We believe the
CitiRewards redemption process should be fun, engaging and
exciting, not tedious.”

Wide geographic spread

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Chatterjee highlighted that, geographically, Citi is the most
widely spread financial institution, present across 36 to 38
markets. In eight of the 12 Asian markets in which it operates, the
bank is a dominant issuer.

Sanjay Kao, card business director of Citibank Indonesia, said:
“People now want a quick shopping experience to get what they want
and customers are telling us that rewards are boring. Thus we need
to make it a lot more exciting and a lot more relevant. is a shift in how customers are involved, and
motivates customers to use the card a lot more.”

Across the region, card issuers are going beyond card numbers into
card usage to increase the profitability of their portfolio.
Campaigns to generate higher card spending include promoting
instalment payment plans with partner retailers at zero percent
interest; offering tailored reward programmes based on target
demographics and giveaways based on transaction size or frequency;
and automatically crediting cashback refunds to the card.

New approach to redemption

Citibank’s move to revamp its rewards redemption process is a step
away from existing programmes in the market. “What we are offering
through is not new; it is a more efficient way to
reach out to customers,” Chatterjee said. He pointed out that cost
savings are not the main driver and the bank does not plan to
change the existing points redemption ratio with the roll-out of
the website.

At the CitiRewards website launch in Malaysia, Vipin Agrawal,
business director for cards and personal loans at Citibank Berhad,
said that the CitiRewards website was the widest-ranging card
rewards programme in Asia-Pacific, with almost 3,000 rewards
available for redemption. In Malaysia, 60 merchants are involved
and 300 rewards items are being offered to its cardmembers for

Agrawal told reporters at the launch that Citibank Online has close
to 350,000 registered users in Malaysia but online redemption
transactions amounted to only 20 percent of that number. He is
aiming to double customers’ online redemption transactions to 40
percent in the next 18 to24 months.

Market-leading Citibank Malaysia has rolled out a number of
rewards-focused campaigns to increase card usage. Stay for Sure
gives away free hotel stays to cardholders who make a minimum spend
of MYR8,000 ($2,425) in three months.

With the success of Stay for Sure, Agrawal extended the programme
to Fly for Sure, guaranteeing free flights for a minimum spend of
MYR50 in a single transaction ten times a month for three
consecutive months. Cardholders get to fly on a budget airline to
popular holiday destinations nearby such as Langkawi and

Focusing on transaction frequency, the bank’s Everyone’s a Winner
campaign rewards cardholders at 12 times the amount spent by
charging a minimum of MYR50 in a single transaction eight times a
month. Previously, the points multiplier was eight times the amount

Depending on the amount spent and frequency of use, cardholders can
qualify for a points multiplier of up to 75 times.

In a previous interview with CI, Agrawal noted: “Feedback from our
customers based on the previous campaign indicated that a large
number of them would participate in a campaign that offers
guaranteed rewards instead of contests. With this programme, we are
not only encouraging customers to consolidate all their purchases
on Citibank credit cards but we are also rewarding existing loyal

At the launch of the programme, Agrawal commented: “People may
carry several credit cards in their wallets. But with Citibank’s
focus on loyalty and usage, the incidence of use of a Citibank
credit card is certainly higher than that of others. From an
industry-wide perspective, Citibank also tends to give higher
credit lines to customers. With attractive usage promotions and
merchant offers, we will continue to make the Citibank credit card
the primary card in customer’s wallet.”

Regional roll-out

The bank has plans to add to the programme by offering different
sites for premium customers but, at the moment, Chatterjee is
focused on rolling out the programme across the region. Singapore
will remain a test-bed for the bank’s pilot launches due to its
relatively developed consumer market and multi-racial mix that
provides a good initial insight into the consumer behaviour across
the region.

“Innovations that succeed in Singapore translate into bigger
innovations in other markets,” said Chatterjee.