Citigroup Inc., in a series of steps announced on Tuesday, signaled an intent to aggressively build its insurance operations.
The banking company said it would spend $2.4 billion to buy back the 15% of publicly held shares in its Hartford, Conn.-based insurance affiliate, Travelers Property Casualty Corp.
In addition, Todd Thomson, a former acquisition strategist at GE Capital Corp., was named chief financial officer. He succeeds Heidi Miller, who left last week to become financial chief at the Norwalk, Conn., Internet start-up Priceline.com. Mr. Thomson has been chief executive of Citi's global private bank since last year.
The banking company also said Victor J. Menezes, who is co-head of global corporate and investment banking, will take on the titles of chairman and chief executive officer of Citibank NA, the company's main U.S. commercial bank operating unit.
The decision to buy up shares in Travelers Property Casualty and the appointment of Mr. Thomson as finance chief suggested that Citigroup is readying itself for a more aggressive approach to acquisitions, particularly in the insurance business, observers said.
Travelers is already 85% owned by its parent. The deal announced Tuesday means Travelers can take advantage of Citigroup's stronger currency with which to make acquisitions in the property and casualty business, said Kenneth Zuckerberg, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
"This is a masterstroke," Mr. Zuckerberg said in a note to investors Tuesday. He added that depressed stock valuations in the property and casualty industry leave plenty of opportunities for Travelers and its parent to acquire.
Indeed, "this makes it even more likely that they will do some sort of deal in the insurance business," said Ronald Mandle, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. The signs are already there, observers said. Last month Travelers agreed to buy the surety business of Reliance Group Holdings Inc. for $580 million.
Citi has offered $41.50 per share for the outstanding stock in Travelers Property Casualty, which would be a 23% premium over Travelers' closing price Monday. Travelers first began trading shares in April 1996.
Mr. Thomson, 39, joined Citi two years ago from GE Capital, the Stamford, Conn.-based finance and insurance services unit of General Electric Corp. There, he was senior vice president of strategic planning and business development and was credited for guiding acquisitions and market expansion.
He takes up Citi's top financial post effective immediately. Peter Scaturro succeeds him at the helm of the global private bank on an interim basis. Mr. Scaturro, 40, has been head of Citi's U.S. private banking operations.
The changes also come as Citigroup embarks on a search for a successor to John S. Reed and Sanford I. Weill. Mr. Reed, 61, said last month that he would retire as chairman and co-chief executive officer of the banking company at its annual meeting scheduled for mid-April. Mr. Weill, 67, who will take sole possession of the CEO title at that time, has said he would name an eventual successor within two years.
Mr. Menezes, 50, is a longtime Citi executive who is considered a contender for the top job. The announcement Tuesday that Mr. Menezes will succeed Mr. Reed as chairman of Citibank NA perhaps tipped a hand regarding succession planning - - though a spokeswoman sought to differentiate Mr. Menezes' title promotion in the bank from the ongoing search for a successor to Mr. Weill.
In a memorandum to employees, Mr. Weill said Mr. Menezes' "extensive international experience, global perspective, and financial expertise make him uniquely suited to assume this position." Mr. Menezes retains his duties as co-head of corporate banking, along with Michael Carpenter, and he will continue to oversee business activities in emerging markets. He was named president of Citibank NA in 1998.