For the first time in years, Citicorp is planning to expand its consumer banking presence here.

Citibank FSB, the company's Chicago retail bank, has seven branches downtown. Last week it said it will open two more there, at locations already chosen, and is looking for a site for yet another.

Officials said they want the bank to be more visible to the more than 400,000 people who do business in the area.

Also, Citi said it would expand in a low-income neighborhood on Chicago's South Side and is considering several other branches in Chicago and its suburbs.

In all, Citibank FSB has 50 branches in and around Chicago, with $5 billion of assets. Deposits total about $4 billion, or about 2.4% of the market.

Regional executive C. Mack has said he has instructions to expand the operation.

Mr. Mack, president and chief executive officer of Citibank FSB, has said he "would not rule out any mode of growth," including acquisitions.

But $290 billion-asset Citicorp has been quiet on the merger front in recent years, and most observers don't expect the company to do a deal soon.

Citicorp entered Chicago in 1984 through the acquisition of First Federal Savings and Loan, one of the first big thrifts to fail in the savings and loan crisis.

"Citi is a big household name, but it's not been much of a factor in the acquisition market," said John J. Harris, an investment banker at ABN Amro Inc. "That's not good or bad. They just haven't been a factor."

Mr. Harris said Citicorp has expressed no interest in buying banks that were for sale in recent years.

The company has had ample opportunity to grow through mergers but has chosen to pursue retail customers through a strategy of direct marketing in print and television ads.

It is difficult to say how successful the strategy has been because Citicorp won't break out income or revenue for its Chicago operations. Most competitors said they believe any growth the company has had through direct marketing has been very expensive.

Citicorp initially had a jump on competitors in Chicago. When it bought First Federal and its 61-branch network it was the envy of local bankers. At the time, Chicago banks' ability to branch was limited by state law.

But in more recent years, Citicorp's rivals in the city-First Chicago NBD Corp., ABN Amro through its LaSalle National Bank unit, and Bank of Montreal through its Harris Bank unit-have gained market share by acquisition while the New York-based banking company has actually closed branches.

First Chicago, which operates First National Bank of Chicago and American National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago, gained a bigger presence by merging with NBD Bancorp in 1995.

But Citi has a strategy in Chicago that goes beyond consumer banking. It has been competing with Northern Trust Corp. and First Chicago for private banking customers, and it goes after business in the commercial banking market as well.

James Sawma, a managing director of Citibank Private Bank who specializes in selling products to wealthy Chicago lawyers, said he hopes his business will benefit from the company's retail expansion. "A retail presence is important to so many of our customers," he said.

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