At a recent conference in New York, William L. Hartmann gave a concise, well-received lecture on the convergence of the high-yield bond and bank loan markets.
What was not as clear was what firm Mr. Hartmann represented. His Citibank business card reflected his past as the former head of loan syndications for that bank. But his nametag read "Citibank Salomon Smith Barney," a name he conceded did not exactly roll off the tongue.
The name of his current employer a year from now? "That's a problem top management is working on," he said.
Mr. Hartmann's identity crisis illustrates what analysts and top management have recognized as a chief challenge facing merged commercial and investment banks: branding.
BankAmerica Corp., the former Citicorp, Deutsche Bank, and BankBoston Corp. all bought, or are buying, their way into the investment banking business. And so far, most of those companies have simply combined commercial and investment banking brands into a single name.
Elsie Maio, principal of the bank-branding consultant Maio & Co. in New York, said that in many cases, "top management seems to think the two should go together. But I wonder if there's a different competence and mind-set that drives each of those" businesses.
The problem has been especially troubling for Citigroup Inc., the two- month old combination of Citicorp and Travelers Group Inc., as it tries to form a cohesive corporate bank. The two sides have had difficulties integrating their operations, so Citigroup's indecision in naming the corporate bank only furthers the perception that there is disarray, analysts say.
"They'll get away with it for a while longer," Ms. Maio said, "But at some point they need to determine what is the value added with this new brand."
As Ms. Maio explains, whatever names Citigroup applies to its subsidiaries will reflect the business strategy of those groups. As it is, the jumble of brands under Citigroup's umbrella show "confusion" and lack of strategic thinking, she said.
Indeed, as a whole, Citigroup must pare down no fewer than seven major business names: Citibank, Commerical Credit, Primerica Financial Services, Salomon Smith Barney Inc., Salomon Smith Barney Asset Management, Travelers Bank and Trust, Travelers Life and Annuity, and Travelers Property and Casualty.
At least one problem has been solved. On Tuesday, Citigroup announced that it will combine the asset management divisions of Travelers and Citibank under the name SSB Asset Management Group.
For Citigroup's corporate bank, a decision on whether to keep the Salomon Smith Barney name will send corporate customers a message about how much emphasis and freedom Citigroup wants to give its investment bankers, analysts say.
The importance of the issue is not lost on the newly appointed heads of the corporate bank, Victor J. Menezes and Michael A. Carpenter. The two were named on Nov. 1 to succeed James Dimon as consolidators of Salomon's and Citibank's wholesale operations.
One Citigroup source familiar with the transition said that within 48 hours of their appointment, Mr. Menezes and Mr. Carpenter conducted a phone survey with their top managers. The result: a list of the top 10 consolidation issues that needed to be resolved.
Sources disagree on where branding ranked on the list, but most say it was among the top five, with some placing it No. 2 behind "client relationships."
Branding also came up on Nov. 17, during the first meeting of an 18- member Citigroup operating committee at a retreat in Armonk, N.Y. There, sources say, a number of new names for Salomon Smith Barney were mentioned, including "CitiSalomon" and "CitiSecurities."
One source said those proposals did not go over well with Smith Barney executives, who argued that the current name carries clout with retail brokerage customers.
"There's a strong movement to keep the Smith Barney name," said a former executive with close ties to the firm. "I know they're going to battle to keep it."
A source at Salomon said that a committee has been formed to come up with branding options, but that the issue has been put on the back burner behind more pressing problems-mainly client relationships.
Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Menezes were unavailable for comment on the branding issue. But in a memo to employees Dec. 9 they acknowledged that "branding has been a broad subject of discussion."
"We will presently continue to operate under our existing brands," the memo said. "Our key focus is not on names but on getting our people working together."
Diane L. Glossman, an analyst with Lehman Brothers, said Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Menezes have identified just what kind of client relationships the corporate bank wants as the top priority.
Identifying a relationship strategy "definitely must come first," Ms. Glossman said. "A lot of things," other than branding, "need to be remedied as soon as possible ... I hear progress is being made."
For now, the existing names will have to do. For instance, Citigroup has directed statistics companies Loan Pricing Corp. and Securities Data Co. to use the Salomon Smith Barney name in reports about the corporate bank.
Nevertheless, there's a growing sense that a change needs to be made-not only at Citigroup, but at any financial services company hoping to compete in the new millennium. Names such as BankAmerica and Citibank are good examples of what consumers want to see, Ms. Maio said. But as lines are blurred between corporate and investment banking, the answer isn't as easy, she said.
"After the Depression era, it was OK to be 'Chase.'" Ms. Maio said. "You were big, you were stable, you were Rockefeller. What will it be? I don't know. But it's not Citigroup as currently defined."