When Diane Reyes took over Citigroup's global payments business in July 2009, the group was already in a crisis mode. Revenue in the group had slid 13 percent since late 2008 because of slowing transaction volume and declining interest-rate spreads on clients' operating balances.
Then came 2010. The earthquake in Haiti, the Greek debt crisis and the Gulf oil spill put additional strains on clients' trade-finance, foreign-exchange and economic activity. Such circumstances also gave a stern test to Citi's payments business — and Reyes' turnaround strategy.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates Citi's organizational response than when it ramped up emergency payment services-over the course of one weekend-to print blank checks and distribute cash to companies, governments and individuals dealing with a crisis situation. Huge volumes of check stock had to be printed up and cash was marshaled to several cities. "It's not often a Saturday or Sunday operation can be put into place so you're ready on Monday at 8 o'clock," says Reyes.
Reyes' team was also instrumental in getting U.S. aid dollars to quake-ravaged Haiti-by land and air-from the neighboring Dominican Republic. Citi executives even sat down with representatives from the Haitian government and central bank to discuss establishing electronic payments in the country.
Reyes has proved adept at reversing the overall business slide too. By the end of 2009, revenues were up 10 percent from the first quarter thanks to cost reductions in paper-based payments and a surge in cross-border payments.