Misra muses on Citigroup's corporate credentials

In a FinanceAsia exclusive, Citigroup's Head of Asia Pacific Corporate Banking, Sanjiv Misra, explains that establishing a holistic approach to providing client solutions is all about operating as one team with one voice.
How would you describe corporate banking to a layman and what does it mean for Citigroup in Asia-Pacific?

Corporate banking is essentially charged with delivering to our most significant corporate, financial institution and public sector clients the full range of products that Citigroup corporate and investment banking has to offer. Where the traditional interpretation of corporate banking was lending, transaction banking, foreign and treasury services, we look at our business from a more holistic perspective.

We look at our clients and ask what our corporate bankers can do, in partnership with investment banking and other product partners, to address their entire menu of needs, from the most basic financial transaction to the completely customised strategic solution.

Corporate bankers, by virtue of our coverage footprint, have enormous access and dialogue with our clients and our job is to make sure this is leveraged to its fullest potential within both the corporate and the investment bank. We have a presence in 17 countries in the Asia Pacific region, with over 4,000 clients and 400 corporate bankers. These figures ignore our presence on the SME side, where we have a rapidly growing business.

There are very few financial institutions in our peer group that come remotely close to having this kind of footprint or business proposition. It allows us to get closer to our clients and leverage opportunities across Citigroup, and by that I mean not just corporate and investment banking business, but all of the natural interconnects with the consumer and wealth management businesses.

Which countries are you active in and which are the key products or markets for Citigroup's Asia-Pacific Corporate Banking?

Citigroup in Asia Pacific operates across a broad geographic terrain, from India to the west to Korea in the north and New Zealand to the south. Clearly, these markets, among themselves, have very different characteristics. However, we have been operating in several of these countries for over 100 years, and we have a series of diverse and experienced local coverage teams that help us to interact with our clients, understand their needs and develop strategies that make sound sense in terms of responding to their objectives and stated business aspirations.

An important increment over the last couple of years has been to fuse the respective country coverage teams with a significantly strengthened regional hub so as to help increase a coordinated approach to covering these corporates, several of whom have multi-nationalised across the region, transference of best practices, identification and development of talent and so on.

I would say, without exception, that Citigroup is among the top three financial institutions in every market in which we operate.

In terms of the actual range of products that you offer, how does that differentiate you from your competition?

We think about our business proposition in terms of two groupings. One is what we call the "business-as-usual flow products", which would include for example cash management, trade services, working capital financing, and transactional foreign exchange. The second is what we refer to as the "strategic/episodic business", which is as the name suggests one deal at a time. That would include loan syndication, bridge loans, bond and equity underwriting, or M&A advisory. Clearly, all of this is in close tandem and partnership with the relevant product and dual coverage groups, including, importantly, investment banking.

While our competitors might argue that we do not have a product set that is necessarily unique, it is a fact that there are very few financial institutions that can combine the depth and breadth of products that Citigroup is able to offer on a global basis on one single platform.

A heavy emphasis is placed on innovation and on excellence in delivery but you could argue that in generic terms our products don't differentiate that much from other institutions. Our differentiator is our global presence, the broadest distribution and product platform and unmatched scale and efficiency. We also spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy challenging ourselves in terms of whether we are bringing the appropriate level of innovation and value add to our clients.

Citigroup has a combined corporate and investment banking model. Are corporate and investment banking a natural fit?

There is a very natural fit. At the end of the day we are calling on the same clients, we are talking to them daily about addressing their financial needs. Because of our presence and our depth of penetration, Citigroup has an information network that is second to none. When you have 400 corporate bankers calling on those 4,000 clients in 17 countries across Asia-Pacific, the ability to leverage that access in serving our clients in enormous.

The most important thing that clearly pulls investment banking and corporate banking together is having corporate bankers who have the ability to understand what it is they should be thinking about, what it is they should be looking for and who are asking the questions that elicit the responses that suggest whether there is an "out of the box" solutions opportunity. Getting our clients to think of us as solution providers rather than different categories of bankers is where we will differentiate ourselves to our continuing benefit.

We work together as a team, leveraging and identifying opportunities and offering clients a range of solutions that are sometimes plain vanilla, and sometimes customised. It helps that I come from an investment banking background, such that I can work especially closely with our investment banking colleagues in covering clients. There is no silo or barrier. We are one team. We have worked exceptionally hard to get the partnership to where it is today. We have invested a lot of time in training our corporate bankers to provide them with a necessary and broad skill set to serve our clients across the region. We have demanding clients and they deserve the best.

How does Citigroup best leverage the combined investment and corporate banking platform in Asia-Pacific?

I would be hard pressed to find anybody that has the quality of relationships that Citigroup enjoys. Citigroup has been in some countries in Asia since 1902, and has an institutional memory that surrounds the business. Interestingly, because of the nature of US banking laws, we were in Calcutta before we were in Connecticut. So we have the relationships - that has never been a problem.

The key is leveraging these relationships to identify opportunities and ensure the information flow between the corporate and investment bank is as good as it should be. Obviously, any sharing of information is subject to the safeguarding of confidentiality and appropriateness principles. But otherwise we operate as one team with one voice to provide our clients with the full benefits of being serviced by the world's largest financial institution.

What are the challenges you face going forward in corporate banking and what is Citigroup doing to address these challenges?

One of the things that we have not done as good a job of was delivering solutions. We have in the past been too product focused. So the idea now is to sit down with the people that represent both coverage and product and assess what the client actually needs. And we have made a lot of progress with this over the past couple of years.

Citigroup is now more client focused, delivering innovative solutions. We are recruiting, training and developing the highest calibre professionals to service the client base. The key is to create a dialogue with clients and understand their needs. Citigroup has the platform to offer any solution, and our job is to offer the best advice and the right solution for the client.
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