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Citigroup’s Corbat: morale is good; environment to remain challenging


Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat discussed compensation, growth and underperforming assets with Bloomberg TV’s Erik Schatzker at the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Corbat said that he expects the environment for investment banking will remain “challenging” and weigh on compensation.

Corbat said: “People recognize the times we are in, these are challenging times…Things will remain challenging going forward for a period of time. Our people recognize that.”  He also said: “I think morale is good…Our employees are very confident about the strategy if you think about what’s going on in the world today.”

 

 

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Corbat on his number one priority as CEO of Citigroup:

 

“Right now we’re very focused on executing against our strategy. We think we’ve got a sound strategy, we think we’ve got a plan to execute against that and we’re focused around the execution of that.”

 

“Getting the work done.”

 

On what he wants people to think of Citigroup when they think of that name and everything the bank has been through:

 

“An indisputably safe and sound institution.”

 

On whether people doubt that Citigroup is “an indisputably safe and sound institution”:

 

“I think we need to do a better job of telling it. I think we have done a lot of work in terms of restructuring ourselves over the past three or four years.”

 

“I think the brand is still strong around the world but we need to continue to build on it.”

 

On whether he’s worried about employee morale:

 

“I think morale is good it. Our employees are very confident around the strategy. If you think about what is going on in the world today and the things that we’re focused on, the globalization and the urbanization, the digitization, the big secular themes in the world, we are as well-positioned as anyone to take advantage of those and it’s about making sure that we do.”

 

On cutting compensation:

 

“I think that people recognise the times we’re in. These are challenging times and I think things will probably remain challenging going forward for a period of time. I think our people recognize that but they are on a platform where they have relevance to customers and clients and I think they are excited by that.

 

On whether Citi can afford to be competitive or should the bank be tougher with comp than others in the industry:

 

“We absolutely can be competitive; absolutely we can.”

 

On what he wants shareholders to think when they hear his name:

 

“Well I don’t want them to think of Michael Corbat. I want them to think of Citi and what we can do at Citi. And again, I think it’s an institution, as I said last week on our earnings call, that we have to get beyond the point of destroying our shareholders’ capital and returning it, and that we are executing against a unique set of opportunities that we have as a company and that we are making the most out of those.”

 

“I am working for them. We all work for the shareholders.”

 

On whether there’s anything about the strategy set under Vikram Pandit that he would like to change:

 

“I think our strategy we have today is the right one and I am really focused going forward. I think it is focused around execution. This is, as I described, a challenging environment, an environment where we have to be smart about where and how and with whom we use our resources. In that environment you have to be mindful of expenses, and we are.”

 

On the biggest challenge to Citi right now:

 

“I think it’s the uncertainty in the economies. We are in an environment right now where economically, politically, regulatory – lots of change. We are in an industry that is probably a stage of redefining most, if not all, of our significant relationships. What does it mean to be a shareholder of a bank today and what does it mean to be a customer client, what does it mean to be an employee? All of those things are in a state of flux.”

 

On whether he anticipates more downsizing on top of the 11,000 job cuts already announced:

 

“I think will be focused on operating efficiency. What I don’t want to do is be a company that comes in once a year and makes a decision around cutting jobs or changing business mix. It has to be part of us. I think going forward we will be more focused on the operating efficiency of the company.”

 

On whether growth is important or overdone:

 

“Growth is critical. You not only want to be growing top line but you’ve got to be mindful of that top line ultimately when you get to the bottom line. The environment today, a global economy that is posting and will continue to post very mixed results. We see some recovery in the United States, Europe probably stays in recession at least through 2013. Slowing growth but still good growth in Asia, not some of the double-digit figures we were used to. You have got to be more mindful of where that’s going to come from.”

 

On why he didn’t do a “kitchen sink quarter”–or taking a gigantic charge and moving on with a clean slate:

 

“One of the things that surprised me when I got into this job was that after a year back after spending three years in Citi Holdings was some of the focus around Holdings and the belief that there is a quick fix to it. Today there is not. We disposed of about $800 billion of assets in the last four years. We’ve shed 60 operating businesses. Today Citi Holdings – about $150 billion of assets – the majority is comprised of US mortgages. Today, we want to continue to see housing prices come up, we want to see markets heal, securitisation markets return and then we think there is going to be an opportunity to shed those assets faster but today it doesn’t even make sense.”

 

On whether the U.K. will remain part of the European Union:

 

“I think a unified Europe is an important thing. We have got to see Europe come together rather than be a series of individual countries that the collective efforts are critical to the path. I think that right now the steps taken by the ECB are the right steps from a technical perspective in terms of putting a safety net under the market. But we have to get growth back into the markets. That growth will not be driven by any individual country, it’s going to be driven collectively and that collective action is critical.”

 

On how to get influencers like David Tepper to recognize the value of Citi and its global business:

 

“We have got to execute against our plan. We have the right strategy, we’ve got the right business mix, we have simplified the company, we’re focused around our core businesses and we have got to go execute.”

 

On whether shareholders are making a mistake with how they are pricing Citi:

 

“The markets dictate where the markets are…We are very comfortable with our balance sheet and we are very comfortable with our strategy and business plan.”

 

On why people associate Citigroup with a bank that has trouble keeping costs down:

 

“Citi is a big place. We operate in over 100 countries and if you are not mindful of the ways to come to work, you can get expense creep. And it can magnify itself around the institutions so we have got to be focused about the way we come to work in all of these places every day.”

 

On what he can do differently to get people to think about expenses in a more rigorous way:

 

“I think it is beyond expenses. It is thinking about the way we come to work. As we just described, we are in a world that has a very mixed said of the economies as you go country by country or region by region. We operate in many of those countries or may of those regions and we can’t come to work the same way in each of those. There are many places we want to come, and we want to be investing to grow and there’s others where we have the right business mix today and we should be satisfied in making sure that we are optimizing against that business mix and driving investment where we can do the right things for our customers and get the right returns for shareholders.”

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