Morse leaves Citi

Robert Morse becomes the latest high-profile banker to resign from Citi to pursue other opportunities.
One of AsiaÆs most respected bankers, Robert Morse, resigned as CEO of CitiÆs Asia-Pacific institutional clients group (ICG) on Friday to ôpursue other opportunitiesö.

Morse, who had been with Citi for 23 years and did much to expand the institutional business franchise, is the latest high-profile executive to leave since Vikram Pandit was appointed chief executive of the US bank last December.

In July, Michael Klein, the chairman of ICG, departed to ôto pursue other opportunitiesö. Less than four months after Pandit took over as CEO he appointed John Havens (whom he had worked with at Morgan Stanley) as head of ICG. Klein was the chairman of Havens' group.

Earlier this year Morse was reassigned from the role of chief executive in Asia-Pacific for corporate markets and banking to take on the additional job of handling alternative investments in the renamed institutional clients group. At the same time, Pandit appointed Ajay Banga to a newly created role of chief executive of Asia-Pacific operations, which means he sits atop of ICG in Asia, which includes the markets and banking businesses, and he's also overseeing the client group, consumer banking and wealth management. One of Banga's key priorities as overall CEO will be to accelerate partnerships between Citi's ICG, consumer and wealth management units and to generate stronger cross selling between these businesses.

Citi announced on Friday that Banga will be responsible for MorseÆs roles while retaining his other duties.

"During his 23 years with the company, Bob has played an important role in growing our Asian franchise which has consistently served our clients with distinction and made us a leader in the industry," said Banga in a statement.

While BangaÆs remit is clearly larger, all eyes will be on him to see if he can repeat MorseÆs success. Between 2004, when Morse took on the top job in Asia, and the end of 2007, Morse doubled revenues to $4.7 billion. He expanded the business throughout Asia, including buying control of Guangdong Development Bank in China for $3.1 billion in 2006, and scoring a high profile role for Citi on the IPOs for China Citic Bank, China Coal and China Railway Construction last year. Morse also oversaw the move to take over Taiwan's Bank of Overseas Chinese for about $426 million and launched commercial banking in Indonesia, a prime brokerage office in Singapore, and investment banking in Bangladesh.

Before moving to the Asia post in 2004, Morse, 53, had been head of global investment banking at Citi. He joined Citi when the firm acquired Salomon Smith Barney, the investment bank he had worked at since 1985.

While Morse could not be reached for comment, people close to him say that, after summer holidays with his family, he will return to Hong Kong where they expect he will either ôdo something entrepreneurialö or join a private equity group. One banker notes that while Morse is probably still open to ideas, he is not the sort of person who leaves things to chance and that he will ôbe the most senior banker in Hong Kong to do something independentö.

Several bankers are surprised that Morse departed mid-year. Of those who had speculated that he might leave Citi, most reckoned he would stay until after the bonus season. But some say Klein may have paved the way.

Everyone interviewed for this story said that Morse will be missed within Citi, which begs the question: will more bankers follow in his footsteps? Most of the senior managers around Morse have been working together for years, and are close friends. They could well carry on as usual, or feel the firmÆs loss is their loss. But few expect any immediate departures, not just because of the global financial slump, but because theyÆll want to prove that the success in Asia can continue.

The deep bench of experienced senior bankers bodes well for Banga, who joined Citi in 1996.

From 2005 to 2008, Banga served as chairman and chief executive officer of CitiÆs international global consumer group businesses, for which his responsibilities included all credit card, retail banking, and consumer finance operations in Asia, Japan, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Mexico.

Prior to that role, he served as an executive vice-president of the global consumer group and president of retail banking North America. At that time, he was responsible for branch banking, commercial banking, commercial real estate, commercial financing and leasing, mortgages, student loans, and the Primerica Financial Services distribution channel. Appointed in 2002, he had additional responsibility for the servicing and technology of all the real estate businesses in the consumer bank.

Banga began his business career as a management trainee with Nestle in 1981. He spent the next 13 years in a variety of assignments spanning sales, marketing, and general management. He later joined PepsiCo in its restaurants division and was instrumental in the launch of Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken in India.
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