Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser pushes biggest overhaul in almost two decades

FILE PHOTO: Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills

By Tatiana Bautzer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Citigroup chief executive Jane Fraser's move on Wednesday to strip out a layer of top management, cull jobs and take more control of key businesses marks her boldest move yet to simplify the Wall Street giant and boost its share price.

"The changes that we announced this morning are the most consequential changes to how Citi will be organized and run that we've made in almost 20 years" by reducing complexity at the third largest U.S. bank, Fraser told investors on Wednesday at a conference in New York.

Appointed in March 2021, Fraser has been tasked with transforming a business whose stock had lagged rivals like JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America during her predecessor Michael Corbat's eight years at the helm.

She has sought to streamline the global lender in its biggest revamp in almost 20 years and announced the intention to exit 13 markets worldwide. The bank is also planning to list its Mexican consumer unit, known as Banamex, after a sale process fell through.

Citi had sprawled under Sandy Weill who led the bank in an acquisition spree between 1998 and 2003. The lender came to the brink of collapse during the 2008 financial crisis and got a multibillion-dollar government bailout.

Fraser, 56, is also trying to fix longstanding regulatory problems related to its risk-management and internal governance which largely stem from Citi's size and complexity.

As part of her strategy, she is focusing the bank on its institutional business to become the leading global bank for corporations and asset managers looking to do business cross-border. On Wednesday, she eliminated layers of management in order to more directly oversee institutional and international businesses.

Some investors appear skeptical that her strategy will pay off, although others have acknowledged it will take time.

Citigroup's shares are still valued at less than half book value, whereas competitors hover around 1. They are down around 7% year-to-date, broadly in line with the S&P 500 Banks Index .SPXBK which is down 9.15% in that time.

Scottish-born Fraser is the first woman to lead a Wall Street bank. She spoke in March about her life and career in a wide-ranging interview with Carlyle Group Co-Founder David Rubenstein.

An only child born to an accountant father, Fraser worked as a golf caddy in her youth before attending Cambridge University and Harvard Business School. Fraser started her career at Goldman Sachs, then became a partner at McKinsey and held several executive roles at Citi before taking the helm two years ago.

She joined Citigroup in 2004. During her career at the bank she helped execute some of its divestitures, including the staggered sale of its Smith Barney brokerage, and was often assigned to fix problems in the bank’s operations, ranging from its U.S. mortgage business to its Mexico operations.

(Reporting by Tatiana Bautzer; writing by Michelle Price; editing by Lananh Nguyen and Josie Kao)