Citigroup's Mary McNiff: The No. 1 Woman to Watch
Early in her career, when colleagues would begin to reminisce about their college days, Mary McNiff would often casually remove herself from the conversation.
Back then, slipping away just seemed easier than telling co-workers that her parents didn't have the money to send her to college and instead she took accounting classes at night and on weekends while working full time at the former Abbey National in London.
As her career progressed and she moved into larger roles, however, McNiff began to be more forthcoming about her background and, in doing so, found that she was actually helping others open up about what they may be hiding or any other anxieties. She recently shared her story at an internal town hall that was broadcast globally and was "overwhelmed" by the feedback she received from colleagues at all levels.
"A lot of people can relate to my story, and they feel comfortable telling me their stories," said McNiff. "I think it's made me more approachable."
McNiff, who grew up in England, said that she ended up in accounting school because her mother had one rule: She had to choose a profession.
"I could have become a plumber. I could have been an electrician. I chose accounting," she said.
It obviously suited her. Over a 30-year career, McNiff has run auditing teams on four continents for business units of Abbey National, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds Banking Group and, since 2011, Citigroup, where she is now CEO of its Citibank unit.
McNiff, American Banker's No. 1 Woman to Watch for 2019, was promoted to the CEO role in April following the retirement of Barbara Desoer. For the two years prior, McNiff was the global bank's chief auditor and before that was the chief administrative officer for Citi's Mexico and Latin America region.
In her new role, McNiff is largely responsible for protecting the safety and soundness of Citibank, which accounts for about 75% of Citigroup's nearly $2 trillion of assets. She is involved in setting strategy and developing new business as well, but her chief function is making sure that the bank has the proper risk procedures and policies in place to ensure that it can withstand an economic downturn.
She is also now part of the 15-person leadership team that reports to President and CEO Michael Corbat and sets overall strategy for Citigroup. In that capacity, she oversees global data aggregation and reporting for the company and chairs the business practices committee, which is responsible for ensuring that business practices across the global bank meet the highest standards of professionalism and ethical behavior.
Like other top leaders at Citi, McNiff is committed to diversifying Citi's global workforce to better represent the customers and communities the company serves. McNiff co-leads Citi's Hispanic/Latino group and, in that role, works to develop skills training, networking events and other programs aimed at helping Hispanic and Latino employees find new opportunities within the company.