Citigroup's leaders say company needs to simplify itself

Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:54pm EDT
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By David Henry

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - The two men at the top of Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote), the third-biggest U.S. bank and the most international, acknowledged on Tuesday that the company must do more to simplify itself.

Asked at an annual meeting of shareholders whether Citigroup is too big to manage, Chairman Mike O'Neill said the task "is certainly harder" for its size and that the company has more years of work in a drive to reduce risk and complexity that started when the company was bailed out in the financial crisis.

"We are making progress, but we are not where we want to be," O'Neill said.

Chief Executive Mike Corbat said the bank is "a couple of years" from turning what he called an "amalgamation" of 35 local consumer banks around the world "into one truly global bank."

The issue of Citigroup's complexity took on renewed importance last month when the U.S. Federal Reserve rejected the company's bid for permission to pay a higher dividend and return $6.4 billion to shareholders through buybacks.

The Fed apparently turned down the capital plan because of multiple issues with Citigroup processes for managing its capital and testing risk in stressful scenarios, said Corbat, citing conversations with regulators. He and O'Neill said the rejection did not seem to reflect a disagreement with Citigroup's strategy or business model.

Corbat said Citigroup will spend more money on staff and information systems to upgrade its capital planning tools in time for the Fed's next annual review in early 2015. The spending will be funded through cost-cutting and productivity gains in other areas, he said.

Costs have been a chronic problem for the company and Corbat has told executives reducing expenses is their number one priority.   Continued...

A Citi sign is seen at the Citigroup stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid