Tag Archives: citigroup

More Bank Marketing

By James Kwak

I’ve already criticized Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit’s testimony before the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel on Thursday, but there’s one thing I left out. Citigroup, like other banks not named Goldman Sachs, is attempting to cloak itself in a mantle of goodness. Pandit’s testimony included several bullet points discussing all the wonderful things that Citigroup is doing for ordinary Americans. For example: “In 2009, we provided $439.8 billion of new credit in the U.S., including approximately $80.5 billion in new mortgages and $80.1 billion in new credit card lending.”

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Is Vikram Pandit in Favor of Real Reform?

Testifying today before the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit took pains to strike the right notes. Near the beginning of his prepared testimony, he said, “First, however, I want to thank our Government for providing Citi with TARP funds. For Citi, as for many other institutions, this investment built a bridge over the crisis to a sound footing on the other side, and it came from the American people.” Saying “thank you” may not satisfy many people, but it is a step in the right direction.

More importantly, Pandit said that Citigroup is on the side of the angels — in this case, the side of real financial reform:

“Citi supports prudent and effective reform of the financial regulatory system. America – and our trading partners – need smart, common-sense government regulation to reduce the risk of more bank failures, mortgage foreclosures, lost GDP and taxpayer bailouts. Citi embraces effective, efficient and fair regulation as an essential element in continued economic stability.”

When it comes to the substance, though, I’m not sure how much Pandit had to say that was new, although he took care to say it in the nicest way possible.

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Questions For Mr. Pandit

By Simon Johnson

Today, perhaps following our earlier recommendation, Mr. Vikram Pandit – CEO of Citigroup – will appear before the congressional oversight panel for TARP. (Official website, with streamed hearing from 10am).

This is an important opportunity because, if you want to expose the hubris, mismanagement, and executive incompetence – let’s face it – Citi is the low hanging fruit.

Citibank (and its successors) has been at the center of every major episode of irresponsible exuberance since the 1970s and essentially failed – i.e., became insolvent by any reasonable definition and had to be saved – at least four times in the past 30 years (1982, 1989-91, 1998, and 2008-09). 

In the last iteration, Citi was guided by Robert Rubin – self-styled guru of the markets and sage of Washington, a man who  likes to exude “expect the unexpected” mystique – directly onto the iceberg at full speed.

Mr. Pandit was brought in by Mr. Rubin to refloat the wreckage, despite the fact that he had no prior experience managing a major global bank.  Mr. Pandit’s hedge fund was acquired by Citi and then promptly shut.  And Mr. Pandit’s big plan for restructuring the most consistently unsuccessful bank – from society’s point of view – in the history of global finance: Reduce the headcount from around 375,000 to 300,000.

Here are five questions the FCIC should ask.  This line of enquiry may seem a bit personal, but it is time to talk directly about the people, procedures, and philosophy behind such awful enterprises. Continue reading

Design or Incompetence?

Or both?

In late summer or early fall, Citibank was running a promotion: if you opened a new account or moved a certain amount of money to your bank account, you would get a $200 bonus within three months. Someone I know took advantage of this promotion, but as of Monday he still hadn’t gotten the $200 bonus, so he visited a branch.

“I was given the ridiculous explanation that I didn’t surrender the promotion letter and  that the promotion code NP55 was not linked (?) in the application. I told them that: (1) the letter is not a coupon to be surrendered, (2) I should not have to tell the customer service rep how to process the promotion, (3) there was no requirement that the letter even  be presented (just go to a financial center, it states), and (4) the code only needed to be mentioned if applying by phone. They called me back in the afternoon and asked me to come back this morning. They first offered me some ‘thank you’ points, but I stood my ground.  After calling several places they finally reached a Texas office that would further research my problem. “

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The Citi Never Weeps

On the first day of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Phil Angelides demonstrated a gift for powerful and memorable metaphor: accusing Goldman Sachs of essentially selling defective cars and then taking out insurance on the buyers.  Lloyd Blankfein and the other CEOs looked mildly uncomfortable, and this image reinforces the case for a tax on big banks – details to be provided by the president later today.

But the question is: How to keep up the pressure and move the debate forward?  If we stop with a few verbal slaps on the wrist and a relatively minor new levy, then we have achieved basically nothing.  We need people more broadly to grasp the dangerous financial “risk system” we have created and to agree that it needs to be dismantled completely.

One way to do this would be for the Commission to call key people from Citigroup to testify. Continue reading

What’s Up with Citigroup?

On Monday, Citigroup received permission from its regulators to buy back the remaining $20 billion in preferred shares held by Treasury because of its investments under TARP. (Treasury invested $25 billion in October 2008 and another $20 billion November 2008; however, $25 billion worth of preferred shares were converted into common shares earlier this year, giving the government about a 34% ownership stake in the bank.) The stock then fell by 6%. What’s going on?

This is another example of a bank doing something stupid in order to say that it is no longer receiving TARP money, and probably more importantly so it can escape executive compensation restrictions. As Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit himself said last October, TARP capital is really cheap (quoted in David Wessel, In Fed We Trust). Instead of paying an 8% interest rate* on $20 billion in preferred shares, Citigroup chose to issue $17 billion of new common shares while its share price is below $4/share. Citigroup’s cost of equity is certainly more than 8%, so it just increased its overall cost of capital. The stock price fell because existing shareholders are guessing that the dilution they suffered (because new shares were issued) will more than compensate for the fact that Citi no longer has to pay dividends to Treasury.

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CEO Statements That Should Make You Worry

“Our distinctiveness is we connect the world better than anyone else. We have a great capability of building a business around that. And we are in the process of building a culture around that.”

That’s Vikram Pandit on his company, Citigroup, as reported in The New York Times. What does it mean? Your guess is as good as mine.

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