What Is a Customer Information File (CIF)?

Customer Information Files Explained in Less Than 4 Minutes

Smiling customer service rep wearing headset looks at computer
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A customer information file (CIF) is an electronic file that gives a snapshot of a customer’s personal and financial details. It has a unique CIF number and allows companies to quickly identify a customer’s relationship with the institution.

CIFs were historically used by banks and financial institutions, but other types of companies are also starting to use them. Here’s a look at how they work.

Definition and Examples of a Customer Information File

A Customer Information File is a computerized file created by companies that stores information pertaining to a customer’s account and activity history.

  • Acronym: CIF
  • Alternate name: Client information file

All customer information files contain a unique CIF number. Companies can use this number to sort and identify customers based on relationship type.

Beyond that, the type of information included in a CIF depends on the company using it. Your CIF at a bank, for example, may also contain your:

  • Account numbers
  • Bank balances
  • Transaction history
  • Open lines of credit
  • History of past inquiries and applications
  • Personal Identifiable Information (PII), such as your name, address, date of birth, phone number, photo ID, and Social Security number

Every company you interact with likely has some type of CIF on you.

How a Customer Information File Works

The customer information file tells companies, institutions, agencies, banks, and others who you are and how you’ve interacted with them so far. Think of it as a summary of your customer journey.

A retail store collects information on your product searches, purchase history, gender, and other demographics.

A bank’s CIF lists all your account numbers, and it highlights your bank balances and transaction histories. Banks want to keep their CIFs as up-to-date and accurate as possible, so some of them hire team members whose entire jobs are to maintain customer information files.

CIFs are mostly associated with commercial banks and retail banks—but this isn’t always the case. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs keeps a CIF for each veteran that comes through its office. This file includes items such as:

  • A unique veteran identification number (also known as a CIF number)
  • Social Security number
  • Vet Center team number
  • Marital status
  • Gender
  • Birthdate
  • Service dates
  • Branch of service
  • Veteran eligibility information
  • Discharge status
  • Referral source
  • Visit information and treatment
  • Other statistical information about services provided to the veteran

Even if a company doesn’t directly have CIFs, it probably uses some type of customer relationship management (CRM) software to collect data and keep track of client information.

Benefits of a Customer Information File

Companies use CIFs, in part, because they provide benefits such as a better customer service experience and a CIF's marketing potential.

Better Customer Service Experience

CIFs help companies give you a better customer service experience. Each time you contact the company, an employee can quickly pull up your CIF and understand your entire relationship with them—even if that particular person has never spoken with you. In a time where most interactions are done online, this type of personal attention goes a long way in making you feel valued as a customer.

Used As a Marketing Tool

CIFs can also be used as a marketing tool for companies and are an integral part of customer segmentation. Most CIFs track your activity history, lifestyle information, demographics, and more. Companies use this data to determine what other products and services you may be interested in next.

Service-based companies, such as doctor’s offices, lawn care businesses, and car dealerships, may also use CIFs to keep track of when you may need to visit them again. For example, your local dentist office could use its CIFs to determine which customers need a six-month checkup. Your local auto shop may do the same thing when it’s time for you to get your oil changed.

Key Takeaways

  • A customer information file (CIF) is an electronic record that contains all of your personal information and lists all interactions you’ve had with a company. It’s usually accompanied by a unique CIF number.
  • A CIF is helpful for companies because it gives them a quick snapshot of your relationship with them.
  • In banking, your CIF may list out all your account numbers, transaction history, lines of credit, past inquiries, and more. For online stores, it may state your product search history, purchase history, gender, and other demographics.
  • Companies use CIFs to create a better customer service experience and figure out what other products and services you may buy.