The Top 25: Vanessa Colella, Citi

After overseeing Citi Ventures’ global investment strategy, accelerator program and internal strategic growth initiatives as a managing director for three years, Vanessa Colella was named head of at US-listed bank Citi’s corporate venturing unit in 2017 as chief innovation officer.

Citi Ventures prides itself for adding value to partners by co-investing in startups with other venture capital firms. It said in a statement: “We make a point to not require exclusivity. Startups are not just looking for an investment, they are looking for a partner.

“We believe that partnerships can be made with innovative companies, not with the intention to take over, but to mutually help each other and scale great ideas. Our goal is to be the bridge that connects our portfolio companies to the best partners in the banking world, helping them land a commercial deal or launch a product in partnership with Citi. Their success is how we measure our success.”

The number of investments participated in:

To date, Citi Ventures has made 68 investments, 20 of which including follow-on investments, were made in 2018, having co-invested with more than 40 VCs and CVCs in five different countries – Israel, US, UK, Singapore and Canada.

It has had 17 exits, four of which took place in 2018:

  • US-based personal finance management app developer Clarity Money was acquired by Goldman Sachs Bank USA, a subsidiary of investment banking group Goldman Sachs for $100m in April.
  • US-based blockchain technology-focused fintech provider Chain merged with fintech producer Lightyear in September.
  • Canada-based invoicing tool provider Joist.
  • US-based cybersecurity software producer Cylance.

Citi Ventures invests in five key areas that are important to the financial services ecosystem:

Financial services and technology: Identifying emerging trends and new models in banking and financial services.

Data analytics and machine learning: Using data in new ways to drive value and efficiencies.

Commerce and payments: Uncovering ways to better engage consumers by providing innovative offers and leveraging new payments rails and infrastructures.

Security and enterprise information technology: Proactively solving for next-gen security threats and fraud mitigation and enabling flexible infrastructure.

Customer experience and marketing: More effectively acquiring, retaining, engaging, and serving customers, while enabling remarkable client experiences across all channels.

Citi funded and partnered US-based business financial management software provider HighRadius to use automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to bridge the gap between accounts payable and accounts receivable in business-to-business payments.

Traditionally, accounts payable and accounts receivable have been separated, but by using technology to move toward automation, banks can unite them into a more streamlined, unified way.

In July 2018, the unit also announced a strategic partnership with HighRadius to launch Citi Smart Match, which leverages HighRadius’s proprietary AI and machine learning (ML) technology along with Citi’s own proprietary assets. The partnership is designed to automate manually intensive processes, reduce costs, decrease DSO (days sales outstanding) and optimise working capital.

Citi operates in 90 countries and has the largest receivables business in global banking, so its partnership with HighRadius helps address a major client pain point.

Citi Ventures also financed and partnered US-based risk management software developer Feedzai to integrate Feedzai’s transaction monitoring platform, powered by advanced ML technology, into its own proprietary services and platforms to provide Citi clients with enhanced control and risk management for payments transactions.

The strategic partnership with Feedzai demonstrates Citi’s deep commitment to using technology to drive innovation. With the help of Feedzai’s solution, Citi can scale rapidly in an effort to deliver value to clients, allowing them to make payments securely, efficiently and without friction, across the globe.

Feedzai’s ML technology will automatically adjust controls to monitor discrepancies and changes in client payment behaviour, allowing for the analysis and identification of potential anomalies in affected payments before they are sent for clearing. It will do this while ensuring that payments are processed quickly and efficiently.

Citi Ventures added: “Citi expects to be live with a new solution leveraging Feedzai’s technology in 2019.”

Citi Ventures originally invested in US-based customer engagement technology developer Braze, formerly Appboy, during its $50m series D funding round in August 2017 and made a follow-on investment in October 2018.

Citi Ventures said: “Braze is a customer engagement platform that automates sending intelligent, relevant, timely and personalised messages to customers across all channels, including mobile, web, email, and other connected devices. Citi invested in and partnered Braze to drive customer loyalty with Citi customers through its artificial intelligence-driven lifecycle engagement platform. Through Citi Cards and Citi FinTech teams, Braze’s technology powers Citi’s mobile messaging capability, providing its customers with intelligent, authentic and relevant contextual messaging.”

After Colella having ranked third as a GCV Rising Star 2016, she ascended to the Powerlist from 2017 for three years consecutively. Its stellar team members Victoria Cheng and Travis Skelly, both senior vice-presidents, were also featured as Rising Stars in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Under Colella’s leadership, the unit has also added more people to its team to cope with its growing portfolio in Israel.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University graduate, Colella wore a number of hats before coming to Citi. She had been a partner at McKinsey, entrepreneur-in-residence at US Venture Partners, senior vice-president of insights at Yahoo, a seventh and eighth-grade science teacher and author of a book on agent-based modelling.