In a move that should speed up its opening of branches in Japan, Citigroup Inc. converted its Japanese banking operation into a locally incorporated and licensed unit.

Citi recently acquired Nikko Cordial Corp., Japan's third-largest brokerage by revenue, and is refining plans to convert its overall Japanese operations to a holding company structure. Those plans could include a listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The new banking license allows Citi to open branches without seeking a separate license for each one. Its previous license as a foreign bank required it to seek regulatory approval for each branch it opened.

On Monday, Citi opened its first branch under the new license, giving it 26 retail banking branches in Japan. It plans to open four more branches there over the next two months and double its retail operations in three years.

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