Does a bank have to be everything to everyone everywhere? Citi’s CEO Jane Fraser thinks not.

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Citigroup, one of the world’s largest universal banks, continues to rethink its corporate strategy in three areas – geographical footprint, business lines and talent – under new CEO Jane Fraser, who took the helm in February. Speaking at the Citi Media Summit on July 1, Ms Fraser called the strategy “a work in progress”, signalling that more changes were coming down the pipeline.

She explained that the new strategy is based on four principles. “One is to take a clinical look at the different parts of the industry that we operate in, at where value is flowing into in the next decade and where there is value flight, as well as how well we are positioned. We’re focusing on the businesses where we see the strongest scalable growth for us,” she said. “In addition, we’re also looking at which businesses best fit together, so we can deliver the full power of the bank to our customers. And we’re looking at simplifying Citi.”

In April, the bank decided to sell its consumer banking operations in 13 countries across Asia and Europe, including China, India, Russia and Poland, while at the same time ramping up its wealth management franchises in large global wealth centres, such as London, Switzerland and the Middle East.

“Looking at the business through a retail banking lens, it’s a very competitive landscape and it has changed a lot. While we’ve been an iconic bank in consumer banking in many geographies, we didn’t feel that we would have the scale needed to be competitive [in those markets],” she explained. Regional players looking to expand their footprints are queuing up to bid for parts of Citi’s operations.

It is interesting that Citi has reduced its geographical footprint when its biggest American competitor, JPMorgan, is expanding in consumer banking

Despite exiting the retail banking business, Citi is maintaining a presence in these markets, according to Ms Fraser, because of their importance as part of the bank’s institutional franchise, foreign exchange, capital markets, and trade and transaction services, the latter she called “our jewel in the crown”.

However, it is interesting that Citi has reduced its geographical footprint when its biggest American competitor, JPMorgan, is expanding in consumer banking. Earlier this year, JPM announced plans to launch a digital retail bank in the UK market under the Chase brand.

Ms Fraser is also bucking the trend set by the large US investment banks of compelling staff to return to the office full time. While acknowledging that “we are better together”, she favours the hybrid model of three days a week in the office and greater flexibility more generally. “I don’t think any of us want to [return to the office] and feel we’re going back to how it always was. We’ve shown that flexibility can be very important and very successful,” she said. She also believes that this approach will be a competitive advantage for Citi in recruiting talent.

She may prove to be correct, particularly in the UK where Citi has more than 9000 employees. According to recent Accenture research, 24% of surveyed workers at UK financial services firms would prefer to work entirely from home once a full return to office is possible, while almost seven out of 10 said that they would prefer to work just two days a week or less in the office. Only 8% said they wanted to be at their desk five days a week.

Joy Macknight is editor of The Banker. Follow her on Twitter @joymacknight

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