Citigroup has plans to export high-growth consumer businesses it inherited from Travelers Group to new markets in Europe and Asia next year.
The $688 billion-asset banking company said it intends to introduce its Atlanta-based financial planning subsidiary, Primerica Financial Services Inc., to consumers in Spain and Japan. Meanwhile, CitiFinancial Credit Co., its Baltimore-based consumer finance operation, is slated for launchings in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and the Far East. Citi also plans to expand its credit card operations into Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The banking company, which has operations in 100 countries, is pinning much of the hope for growth in its consumer businesses on expansion abroad, said analysts and investors who have recently spoken with executives at Citi.
"The international markets are going to be the focus of their developing strategy," said Frank Barkocy, a principal at Keefe Managers Inc., a New York-based investment management firm. "But they haven't discounted a major acquisition on the bank side or in the insurance sector domestically."
The moves abroad would be an extension of the strategy Citi has used to jump-start revenues and profits in its U.S. branch network - instilling a sales culture in the branch network that would encourage cross-selling of an array of products to middle-income consumers. Revenues from cross-selling consumer products and services have been at the center of the rationale for Citicorp's 1998 merger with Travelers.
"A big reason for the merger was the ability to globalize consumer finance and insurance operations," said Raphael Soifer, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.
Analysts and investors said Citi is investing heavily in expanding its capabilities abroad, particularly in sales of mutual funds and in the credit card sector.
Both Primerica and CitiFinancial have posted double-digit gains in profits through the first nine months of this year. Marge Magner, the current head of CitiFinancial who is to take over in January as head of Citi's North American branch banking operations as well as Primerica, said in a recent interview that she would like to bulk up CitiFinancial and Primerica.
CitiFinancial - formerly Travelers' Commercial Credit Co. unit - manages $15 billion in receivables and has 1,200 branches, including 128 U.S. and Canadian branches acquired from Dallas-based Associates First Capital Corp. this year. CitiFinancial already has a presence in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, and Citigroup wants to export the unit's expertise in marketing consumer loan products to the emerging middle classes of Eastern Europe and Asia.
Primerica, which has already raised its profile in Canada with this year's sale of Citi's five-branch network there, will attempt to build a customer base in markets that are just warming up to U.S.-style retail investment advisory services. Primerica consists of 100,000 independent contractors who sell mutual funds, insurance, banking, and financial planning services to middle-income customers.
"It has lots of potential," Mr. Soifer said. "The level of personal financial service that we know in this country still does not exist in most places."