CitiFinancial North America is searching for a new name, a new owner and a new funding model. But even with so much in flux, Mary McDowell has never been surer of her goals.

McDowell has rationalized the 1,800-branch CitiFinancial network, which has been deemed noncore to parent company Citigroup and put up for sale. In June, she announced that 182 CitiFinancial branches would be converted into specialized servicing centers, catering to customers in need of loan modifications and the like.

By eschewing a slash-and-burn approach that would have significantly shrunk the franchise, McDowell has helped preserve long-standing customer relationships while also helping focus resources in markets where they are needed most. The strategy shows "her understanding of the need to retain what has historically made CitiFinancial successful," says Mark Mason, chief operating officer of Citi Holdings, the unit housing all the businesses that Citigroup plans to shed.

McDowell found it easy to get the troops on board with her strategy. "People are excited they have a new direction," she says, "and on the servicing side, people are excited that they're building something new." McDowell's group also is getting ready for the day it breaks off from Citigroup. It is drawing up funding plans of its own and working with a brand consultant to re-christen the business.

Whether McDowell will be part of its next phase is unclear. "I love this business and I would hope to be part of it going forward," she says. "But Citi also is terrific, and we'll see which pathway I go down."

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