Most Powerful Women in Banking: No. 7, Citigroup's Barbara Desoer

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CEO, Citibank / Citigroup

One of the biggest challenges facing bank CEOs is simply making sense of an endless barrage of information — about financial markets, regulation, technology, you name it.

It’s something Barbara Desoer thinks about as CEO of Citibank, the retail and commercial banking unit that accounts for 75% of the Citigroup’s total assets. Strong leadership requires not only having the best data available — it also involves “connecting the dots,” she said.

That’s why she is one of the big-name executives praising a book by Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and statistician, called “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World and Things are Better Than You Think.”

The book, published this year, examines the human capacity to misinterpret and distort basic facts in a way that aligns with their worldview.

In the book, Rosling, who died in 2017, discusses a presentation he gave at Davos in 2015, during which a room full of the world’s top business leaders were asked simple questions, such as “What percentage of the children in the world have received vaccinations?” A majority of the attendees got the questions wrong – vastly overestimating, for instance, the percentage children who lack access to basic health care.

“The book challenged my thinking around progress and the innate biases I may have about current situations,” Desoer said. “Sometimes we think they’re worse than they really are.”

It’s a refreshing frame of mind that Doeser has brought to her work.

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One of her primary goals during her four-year tenure as Citibank’s CEO has been to create a culture where employees see “beyond the work immediately in front of them” and understand the company’s goals as a whole.

To this end, she has looked at new ways to share information, including town halls and virtual training sessions. In 2017 alone, nearly 200,000 employees completed training on anti-money-laundering controls through a virtual channel.

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