Citibank's former head of credit cards has resurfaced - not at another bank, but in the pages of Elle Decor magazine.
Roberta J. Arena's loft in the trendy Tribeca section of New York was showcased in the May issue of the home decorating glossy, published by Hachette Filipacchi Magazines Inc.
As a banker Ms. Arena stayed aloof from the media. And even in her early retirement, she told American Banker, she is still "not one to share my personal life."
Ms. Arena said she agreed to the Elle Decor exposure to help publicize someone else: Katherine Chia, the daughter of Pei-yuan Chia, a senior retail banking executive who left Citicorp in 1996, a little more than a year before Ms. Arena's resignation.
Ms. Chia and her partner, Arjun Desai, were the architects on Ms. Arena's 5,000-square-foot space.
The design is austere - no doors, minimalist furniture, and hardly a knickknack in sight. The color scheme is white, black, and gray. The magazine reported that because of the Japanese feel, visitors instinctively remove their shoes at the door. Ms. Arena called the design "minimal but not industrial."
Ms. Arena said she dislikes clutter - including light switches, plugs, door handles, and thermostats. She also shuns jewelry and clothing with buttons, zippers, bows, or floral designs.
"I've always liked simple," she told Elle Decor. "It's easy. It clears your thoughts."
Ms. Arena's work at Citibank spanned 25 years in such locales as London, Paris, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In 1994 she became executive vice president for cards in North America and Europe. Though based in New York, she traveled more often than not.
After living out of a suitcase for so long, she said, she rewarded herself with the loft after leaving the bank in December.
There is life after Citibank, she said. She is celebrating her 50th birthday in Italy this week with three friends who recently passed the same milestone.
"In some respects it was easier managing a business overseas than planning a birthday party from afar," she told American Banker.
Elle Decor plans to reprint the article in its Italian edition. The furniture is by an Italian designer who shares Ms. Arena's views on clutter.
When asked about career plans, she said, "I have no comment on my future. It's mine to figure out."
Of late, she said, she has enjoyed watching changes in the banking industry "from the sidelines."
"It's good to step back," she said. "When you are in the fray, you don't pay attention to anything else."
Ms. Arena announced her resignation shortly after a reorganization left her reporting to William I. Campbell, executive vice president of the global consumer bank. She and the cards business had reported to chairman John S. Reed.
Ms. Arena was one of the few women to reach Citicorp's highest ranks, and was the first woman on the boards of Visa U.S.A. and Visa International.
Whether or not her exit from banking is permanent, she can still speak the language. After telling Elle Decor her loft's atmosphere was "calm without being cold," she added, "In a city like New York, that's a net take-away."