NEW YORK — Citigroup Inc. chief executive Vikram Pandit said it was understandable that Americans were angry at the financial world but that Citi was undergoing a "process of soul searching," was committed to clients, and was supporting financial reform to help stop the market from falling into the same traps.
In a speech at Columbia University on Wednesday night, Pandit said the unemployment rate, high foreclosures and the economic slump were all fueling anger directed at his industry and he understood why. And he continued, as he has recently, to call for a new global order for regulation and increased transparency.
"They're hurt and they're angry, and much of that anger has been directed at the financial-services industry," Pandit said of Americans. "And I don't blame them."
Pandit said that the economic malaise was a result of false confidence building up in the housing market, and he didn't shy from naming Citi as a player in the environment. That environment and the U.S. government's help for Wall Street, while ordinary Americans continue to struggle, has led to a divide that Citi is now looking to help patch.
"Ordinary Americans think bankers don't understand them. Worse, worse yet, they think we don't care about them," Pandit said. "That is not a good place to be for our country or for any of us."
Pandit said the bank has initiated a process of "soul-searching," ditching its financial-supermarket idea and noting "strategy could only be as good as our people," making changes all the way up to its board members.
He said a culture had developed that allowed banks to emphasize their own trades instead of customer needs and that Citi is committed to getting back to basic banking.
But markets could easily forget the troubles in the next upturn, Pandit said, so he said he's pitching regulation and transparency and reforming Citi as his own legacy.
"A culture of responsibility is a powerful force, beyond rules and regulations, to help guard against bad judgments, temptations to push the envelope and the impulse to act in self-interest first," he said, adding Citi is aligned with President Barack Obama's ideas. "We at Citi are creating a unified culture built on the values of responsible finance."
Pandit was asked afterward by one audience member about his response to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and whether he could "have any benevolent influence" on Goldman Sachs. He declined to comment on the Goldman situation but again said transparency, disclosures and responsibility matter.
Pandit, who has four Columbia degrees and who sported a Columbia tie, was speaking as part of the university's World Leaders Forum.