Citicorp chairman John Reed, whose management shake-ups have become so habitual as to be almost predictable, may have outdone himself this time.
In memos issued at the end of last week, Mr. Reed communicated his most significant organizational moves in 15 months-and probably in his 13 years at the top of the New York company.
Combined with several isolated personnel moves in recent months, the announcements painted a picture of the global bank of the future that Mr. Reed, 58, wants to create and leave as a legacy.
It will look, in ways, like the Citibank (or any other bank) of old, with some functions more centralized than they have been in years, and firm lines of command emanating from headquarters.
But it will not necessarily be run by bankers, or even veteran Citibankers.
The retail businesses are being consolidated under the company's fastest-rising star, executive vice president William I. Campbell, the former Philip Morris U.S.A. chairman whom Mr. Reed brought in at the January 1996 reorganization.
Mr. Campbell knows branding and marketing, seen as keys to building a global empire-with critical assists from technology and from plastic cards in consumers' hands, both Citibank fortes.
In the interest of consolidation, Mr. Campbell will oversee it all-the branch activities known as Citibanking, the private bank, and cards. As a result, Roberta Arena, the hard-charging chief of what has been a stand- alone credit card business reporting to Mr. Reed, gave notice she will retire at yearend.
Ms. Arena was typical of decentralization-era Citicorp managers who liked to run their own shows, observers of the company said. In this cultural revolution, they may be given less latitude, if they have a place at all.
"The object is to be a provider of multiple products over multiple distribution channels," said Arthur Soter of Morgan Stanley & Co., one of several analysts who gave their reactions Monday. "That means there needs to be a commonality of systems, operations, and management."
"Reed is trying to create a brand, and he is trying to coordinate the message the bank presents to the customer," said Ronald I. Mandle at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Mr. Reed has fiddled with the management structure in recent years, seeking the best way to squeeze revenues out of specific product lines, said Diane B. Glossman of Salomon Brothers.
"Last year he was leaning toward functional reporting, with cards and Citibanking separate," she said. "This shift in direction says he sees a lot of synergies, both in terms of the back office and the front office, in putting the functions together."
Mr. Campbell will continue reporting to Mr. Reed, while several lines of business will report to him.
Tea-leaf readers saw the reshuffling as a plus for one of Mr. Campbell's new reports-Alvaro A.C. de Souza, who will head retail banking in the United States-and for Shaukat Aziz, who moves into the private banking role.
Mr. Reed also is coordinating technology and operations under two executive vice presidents reporting to him: Mary Alice W. Taylor, formerly of Federal Express Corp., and Edward D. Horowitz, formerly of Viacom Inc.
Similarly, the corporate and emerging-markets businesses were streamlined under executive vice presidents Dennis Martin and Robert McCormack.
Some analysts said the chronic instability among management could be counterproductive. Amid frequent shifting, "everything focuses on the actions of the leader," said Richard X. Bove, an analyst at Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The perception that Ms. Arena had been demoted generated considerable comment in credit card circles. Citibank has long been the biggest in credit card lending-its biggest source of profits-and it may be looking at cards as the centerpiece of customer relationships.
As the "gateway" to multiple-product sales, cards, because of their superior profitability, may make more sense that relying on checking accounts, said David Gagie, marketing director for Auriemma Consulting in Westbury, N.Y.
"The issue is how you deepen customer profitability as opposed to product profitability," he added.
Citibank has been using credit cards to establish local footholds overseas, said James Shanahan, principal of Business Dynamics Consulting, Nyack, N.Y. "Cards is the kind of business where you can go in and grab a chunk of the market in a short period of time with a relatively modest investment."
"Citibank outside the U.S. is a phenomenon," said consultant James Accomando of Fairfield, Conn. "The card is just one product of a full- service situation" that Citicorp has used to become perceived in many markets as a local player.
What's more, Citibank can draw on experience that Mr. Reed certainly remembers, said San Francisco-based consultant K. Shelly Porges. In the 1970s, when it did the first mass marketings of cards, Citibank viewed them as keys to other relationships. 'It wasn't all that easy to cross-sell" and the effort resulted in huge losses. "Perhaps it was an idea whose time had not yet come."
"Using cards to establish a customer list has been effective for them," said Ms. Porges, chief executive officer of Porges/Hudson Marketing. It remains to be seen how effectively it can broaden and deepen relationships that begin with cards.
Citibank has the best banking brand in the world, Mr. Gagie said, but it faces a challenge that is the same for any bank: how to use that strong brand image to boost customer profitability.
"When you see the inroads monoline companies have made by being highly focused on cards," said Mr. Gagie, a former Lloyds TSB card executive, "a traditional bank issuer would conclude it has to pick a different front to challenge these people.
"And if you can't beat them just by sheer volume of mailings or specific credit card expertise, then one other approach is to maximize the value of your franchise with your customers." u