Mary McDowell's experience running 10 marathons is the sort of endurance training that's well suited to today's credit crisis - which just seems to go on and on and on. She is president and CEO of CitiFinancial North America, which offers personal loans, credit cards, auto loans, real estate refinancing and credit insurance to predominately non prime borrowers in the U.S.

That market might not seem ideally suited to the economic climate, but McDowell's group is actually thriving. CitiFinancial achieved revenues of $5.71 billion in the 12 months ended March 2008, compared to $5.15 billion the year earlier for a growth rate of 10.9 percent. Meanwhile, CitiFinancial's market share for installment loans increased to 26 percent in the first quarter from 22 percent the previous year.

Critical to that success, as with marathon running, is staying flexible before the race even begins. CitiFinancial has kept financial flexibility in part by never securitizing its loans, and eschewing exotic loans that has gotten some competitors in trouble. By not securitizing loans and keeping them within the 2,500 branch network, CitiFinancial now has more ability to work with clients in structuring and restructuring loans. "If they get behind, we have more options to help them with their financial needs."

Another way that CitiFinancial has stayed flexible in these challenging times is thanks to a major revamping of the incentive structure last year. "We can focus the branches on what we want." McDowell estimates that the program will likely generate $100 million in additional revenue in 2008 and 2009. Her incentive program has been so successful that Citi has launched an initiative to deploy this program throughout its consumer business worldwide.

Return to the 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

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