Most Powerful Women to Watch: Jane Fraser, Citigroup

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On the day that Jane Fraser made history as the first woman to lead a major U.S. bank, she didn’t conduct any media interviews. It was perhaps a sign that she’s poised to assume the chief executive role at Citigroup at a moment when there’s little time to reflect or celebrate.

The Scottish-born banker has plenty of work to do when she succeeds Michael Corbat in February. She faces pressure to improve Citi’s profitability metrics and stock market valuation while steering the $2.2 trillion-asset company through lingering fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis has led to a slump in card activity — Citi’s lifeblood — higher credit costs and myriad employee- and customer-safety issues.

In a memo to employees on Sept. 10, the day she was named CEO, Fraser acknowledged the work to be done to craft the company’s next chapter.

She said Citi must position itself “for the digital and disruptive times ahead and for consistent, sustainable performance and long-term success.”

She also said Citi needs to “ensure that we have a culture which demands excellence in these areas because it will ultimately make us more competitive and improve our ability to serve our customers and clients.”

Fitch Ratings analysts Christoper Wolfe and Mark Narron said that the move “demonstrates solid succession planning and bench strength.”

But what ultimately matters to investors is performance, and they’ll be watching closely to see what steps Fraser takes to boost organic growth and improve returns, said Brian Kleinhanzl, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Fraser, 53, has built — and cleaned up — several operations since she joined Citi’s corporate and investment banking division in 2004. A former partner at McKinsey, where she advised financial firms, she was Citi’s global head of strategy and mergers and acquisitions from 2007 to 2009 and then spent the next four years as CEO of Citi’s private bank.

In 2013, she was named CEO of U.S. consumer and commercial banking and CitiMortgage and, two years later, ascended to CEO of Citi’s Latin America region, where she oversaw the company’s strategy across 23 countries, including Mexico. The job included a multiyear restructuring, a major transformation in controls and ethics and a $1 billion investment program in Mexico to upgrade technology and provide a range of new services.

Last fall, Fraser became the first female president in the company’s history and, as CEO of the global consumer bank, took on responsibility for all of Citi’s consumer businesses, including retail banking, wealth management, credit cards and mortgages, as well as operations and technology across 19 markets.

Fraser is a vocal advocate for gender equality. Last year she was named co-chair of the Citi women affinity group, a role in which she is now responsible for global diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure that the company is recruiting, promoting and retaining more women.

Since the spring, Fraser has led Citi’s North America response to the COVID-19 crisis, and she said it is helpful to have a woman in that role.

“I can be much more vulnerable talking about the human dimensions of this than some of the male colleagues feel comfortable with,” she said. “It is very powerful. I’ve been able to have a conversation with our people, across the bank, that I wouldn’t have been able to have without the crisis.

For the first time, American Banker's Most Powerful Women in Banking celebration is open to the whole financial community. Join us virtually October 6-8 to hear our 2020 honorees' stories and experiences. Register here.

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