Citi is looking to redouble its effort to grow its U.S. branch footprint, CEO Jane Fraser said Friday at the virtual Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, according to Business Insider.
"I don't believe branches are dead yet," she said. "We will look at some growth in our footprint in the States. You'll certainly see us having a branch footprint that remains, but we are definitely seeing a lot more dynamism on the digital front."
Despite being the nation’s third-largest bank, Citi is 15th in branch count, according to Federal Reserve data. It does, however, have nearly five times the branch footprint overseas of any other U.S. bank.
It’s the retreat from 13 foreign markets that’s making the increased U.S. focus possible, Fraser said. "As we look at the divestitures in Asia, that will also enable us to have more focus on the home market, and also some of the resources, both talent and financial, to bring to bear in the U.S.," Fraser said.
She employed a similar strategy as head of the bank’s Latin America unit in the mid-2010s. Citi wound down its consumer presence in some countries across the region to concentrate and grow its operations in Mexico.
"When we exited the Latin America markets and then put the focus onto Mexico, and we went from teenager returns to high 20% returns in Mexico, with further to go from that," Fraser said.
She said, however, that Citi’s efforts to refine its strategy and boost its risk controls — a mandate from regulators that last fall imposed a $400 million fine on the bank — would take years, but that the most important aspects would be finished first.
"We’re not going to take on so much that we can’t get it done," she said, according to American Banker. "I think sometimes it’s very tempting to spread the peanut butter. I’m not a big believer in that."
Fraser said the bank’s strategic pivot would be "more fleshed-out" a year from now and that its systems overhaul would be "well down the path," the publication reported.
April’s announced exit from 13 retail markets in Asia and Europe came as the bank laid out plans to hire 1,100 private bankers and relationship managers, and another 1,200 technical and operational employees in Hong Kong and Singapore in an effort to boost its assets under management in Asia to $450 billion by 2025.
The bank has started hiring financial advisers to broaden its wealth-management offerings — and it plans to pay them using a fee-based compensation model rather than a commission-based one, Bloomberg reported Friday.
"I’m not trying to push my own products at the clients to maximize manufacturing revenue," Fraser said. "I’m just trying to serve the clients well."
Fraser made it clear she’s keeping not just clients but investors in mind.
"In some ways, we’ve got a North Star, which is not just that we want to win," she said, according to American Banker. "We're also mindful that we've got to deliver the financial outcomes that our investors expect from us."
Apart from expanding the U.S. branch footprint, Fraser said Citi plans to tinker with how it sees its card business.
"We have a number of different partnerships. I see that as being an embedded finance model, as parts of the consumer business unbundle off the old architecture and rebundle around the new digital architectures," she said, according to Business Insider. "We'll look at, 'How do we make that a deposit proposition, not just a card, and a consumer-lending proposition, not just a card proposition?'"
"There is no silver bullet," she added. "We've recognized we want to be larger, both to tackle funding, as well as to get to a greater scale in the U.S."