Citi retail units seen fetching US$6 billion as sales kick off

Citigroup will exit 13 international consumer banking markets which contributed US$4.2 billion in revenue in 2020.
Citigroup will exit 13 international consumer banking markets which contributed US$4.2 billion in revenue in 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

(BLOOMBERG)- Citigroup could fetch as much as US$6 billion from the sale of retail banking assets in 13 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Middle East as the lender forges ahead with plans to fine-tune its global branch network, people familiar with the plan said.

The sale process for Australia is the furthest along and the preliminary interest for many of the assets has come mainly from local players, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details are private.

Exits from other markets, such as South-east Asia and Poland, are at an earlier stage, the people said.

The entire sales process is in its early stages, and the timeline and valuations could still change.

"In terms of timing... we're already getting going and there's no dilly-dallying here," chief executive officer Jane Fraser told analysts on a conference call last week. "We've begun the work."

Citigroup ultimately plans to exit retail banking operations in Australia, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, though the lender will continue to serve corporations and private banking clients in markets it is otherwise leaving. The moves are part of a bigger refresh of Citigroup's strategy under Ms Fraser, who took the helm in March.

The 13 markets contributed US$4.2 billion in revenue in 2020, Citigroup told investors last week. Still, that was chipped away by operating expenses and provisions for credit losses, which left the combined units without a profit for the year.

Following the exits, Citigroup will instead operate its consumer banking franchise in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, the Middle East and Africa from four wealth centres in Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and London.

"The decision to pursue exits for the other consumer businesses in these regions was, of course, difficult - each is a source of pride, with talented teams passionate about Citi and our customers," Mr Peter Babej, CEO of Citigroup's Asia-Pacific region, said in a LinkedIn post. "However, a comprehensive review concluded that doing right for the long term requires allocating additional resources to where we provide the most differentiated solutions to clients."

A Citigroup representative declined to comment on the timing and size of the sales.

The sale of some of the retail businesses may be fairly complicated.

In Poland, for example, Citigroup has a roughly 75 per cent stake in Bank Handlowy. The business could fetch more than €300 million (US$360 million), according to a person familiar with the matter. While that sale is set to start in the coming weeks, the sale of the retail business will have to be carved out from Bank Handlowy.

In Taiwan, government officials have already warned they will monitor and prevent Citigroup from transferring its high-net-worth clients in Taiwan to its units in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Still, the bank has said it has already started to field bids from several interested buyers for its business in Australia. For now, Citigroup is using its own internal mergers and acquisitions team to handle the sales.

"Citi's consumer bank in Australia is an attractive and profitable business, employing highly skilled and dedicated team members," Mr Marc Luet, CEO for the Australia unit, said in a statement last week. "Citi is committed to securing the best possible outcome for our employees and our customers."

In India, Citigroup's formal sales process will begin next month, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. Citigroup is seeking to sell the entire consumer portfolio in one go to a single player, the officials said. The company is the largest foreign bank in India.

The unit, which Citigroup established in Kolkata in 1902, has issued 2.65 million credit cards and boasts that customers spend more on its cards than those of other major issuers in the country.

The company's sales plans come as many of its global competitors are seeking to gain a bigger foothold in retail banking across Asia and Europe. BNP Paribas and HSBC Holdings have both been public about expanding in Asia. Japanese lenders, including Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, have also expressed an interest in expanding in India.

"While these are excellent franchises, we don't have the scale we need to compete," Ms Fraser said last week. "And we decided we simply aren't the best owners of them over the long term."