Citi struggles to bring back shine to its Mexican crown jewel

Wed May 24, 2017 9:32am EDT
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By Dan Freed and David Henry

MEXICO CITY/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The newly refurbished Citibanamex branch in Mexico City's affluent Del Valle neighborhood opens into a Scandinavian-chic space where salespeople chat with clients at touch screens. The next room, though, is filled with customers queueing up in front of tellers or waiting on benches. Outside, more line up to use the ATMs.

The facelift reflects Citigroup Chief Executive Michael Corbat's ambition to turn the group's Mexican operation into a "state-of-the-art bank."

The lines symbolize the challenge: overcoming the legacy of years of underinvestment and a series of scandals that left the 133-year-old institution lagging rivals in technology, profitability, market share and customer satisfaction. (Graphic:

Despite upbeat assurances from Citi's New York headquarters, the view from the ground is that the bank has yet a lot of ground to recover and local and regional executives acknowledge they have catching up to do.

Jane Fraser, who heads Citigroup's Latin America businesses, told Reuters a visit to an overcrowded branch shortly after she took on her role in 2015 convinced her the bank's service required a thorough overhaul.

The ultimate goal was for people to say, "Okay, they're back to being the best bank again," Fraser said.

The bank is now reorganizing branches to make service more efficient, adding 2,500 ATMs to its network of 7,600 and partnering with startups to improve customer experience, she said.

To broaden its reach, Citibanamex introduced Saldazo, a card distributed at the OXXO convenience store chain, which allows for deposits and money transfers. Saldazo is not yet profitable, but it is popular, with 8,500 cards issued daily, said Pedro Solano, director of financial inclusion at Citibanamex.   Continued...

Customers wait to be served by employees inside at a Citibanamex branch in Mexico City, Mexico May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero