Citigroup Inc. is testing new mobile payment features with its U.S. commercial cardholders in anticipation of a global rollout.

Offering mobile account access to Citi's customers globally is a huge task that will occur in phases, encompassing up to 100 countries, more than a dozen different languages and many time zones, Manish Kohli, Citi's global head of commercial cards, said in an interview.

"Expectations for mobile capabilities for commercial cards are the same as for retail banking, and a welcome step in increasing corporate cards' usage," he says.

Most commercial cardholders until now have relied on Citi's Web page to check on account actions, although many users are road warriors who can benefit from keeping closer tabs on their accounts through mobile phones, Kohli says.

The first step to adding mobile account access was conditioning U.S. commercial cardholders to rely on text-message alerts for notification of basic account action such as when their statement is ready, a payment is due or late, or when a replacement card is on the way. Citi rolled that service out late last year, Kohli says.

Citi on July 2 announced it is expanding availability of such alerts to its commercial cardholders in 66 countries. The service is available in 15 languages, customized to arrive at appropriate hours in each cardholder's time zone.

Simultaneously Citi this week is adding five new types of interactive alerts for U.S. commercial cardholders enabling them to send texts and receive immediate confirmations of recent transactions, including checking on card balances, Kohli says.

The two-way alert functions will be extended to commercial cardholders outside the U.S. beginning later this year, he says.

Migrating commercial cardholders to the mobile app Citi is developing will increase use significantly and cut down on customers' reliance on more-costly paper statements, Kohli says.

"Frequent business travelers often don't have access to the Internet and they may not even be able to get ahold of their paper statements when they're away," he says. "The handset is a very personal device, and cardholders are already using it for their personal retail banking, so we want the corporate card to be part of those habits."

The text-notification service for commercial cards is designed to work with any mobile handset, Kohli says. The commercial card mobile app Citi is developing will be designed specifically for smartphones, he says.

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