Jane Fraser’s first year as CEO of Citi seemed to be punctuated by two messages of perhaps startling contrast. Barely three weeks into her tenure, Fraser signaled that hybrid work schedules would be the norm for most employees even after the COVID-19 pandemic faded. The move established Citi as a thought leader in soft skills.
The same pandemic, however, provided the catalyst for Fraser to show her hard side, as Citi leveled a threat against office workers who failed to comply with the bank’s January 2022 deadline to show proof of vaccination. Citi placed about 150 employees on leave for not meeting the cutoff date for uploading their inoculation card into the bank’s system. (Affected employees could keep their jobs if they complied by the end of the month, a source told The Wall Street Journal at the time.)
Fraser’s message to a town hall last week — days after Citi announced a reorganization with still-unspecified job cuts — may have hinted at the harder side.
“Get on board. We have incredibly high ambitions for this bank and, the train, it’s gonna move fast,” Fraser told employees, according to the Financial Times. “So lean in, help us win with clients, help us deliver the changes, or get off the train.”
Citi declined to comment to the outlet regarding the town hall message, but it has seemed to generate feedback that spans a spectrum of viewpoints. What worries some is what is as-yet unsaid: namely, how many cuts and how soon?
“It’s kind of consuming everyone internally. Everyone’s wondering how it affects their business,” a Citi banker told the Financial Times. “She’s got a plan. She’s just not gonna let everyone see it for a while.”
In announcing the reorganization, the bank said it was starting a 30-day period to realign the businesses and would release more details by the end of November.
So the how-many question may be a waiting game. But CFO Mark Mason in June said the bank booked severance costs for 5,000 job cuts this year. Citi cut 1,600 jobs in the second quarter.
Kristine Braden, the head of the bank’s European unit, was an early casualty of this month’s realignment that put Ernesto Torres Cantú atop Citi’s international business.
Citi also placed Peter Babej in charge of its investment, commercial and corporate bank — but temporarily. The bank has hired executive search firm Egon Zehnder to fill the role, sources told the Financial Times, adding that the search is focused on external candidates. Babej, meanwhile, is expected to retire next year, the bank has said.
Fraser’s comments last week drew comparisons to another bank CEO seen as more prone to bluntness: the head of JPMorgan Chase.
“If it was Jamie Dimon saying that, I’d understand people getting pissed off, but when you are where we are, you need to do better,” a senior Citi banker told the Financial Times. “There’s lots of logic to what she is doing, because we were just running too much cost in this business and we need to get to the right place.”
By her words, Fraser seems at peace with at least the surface-level truth as she sees it. “We have taken hard, consequential, tough decisions here,” she said at a conference this month, according to Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. “They are not going to be universally popular within our bank. It’s going to make some of our people very uncomfortable. I am absolutely fine with that.”
Observers who point to Fraser’s newfound bluntness as the death knell of “soft-skills Citi” may have forgotten the vaccine-card storyline.
At the same time, every person and organization is capable of a vast range and mixture of emotions and attitudes. Look closely enough, for long enough, and Citi may show its softer side again.