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Q&A: George Wehbe, Head of Global Derivatives Operations, Citigroup

“You need to be able to look at the basics of product markets and build knowledge from that.”

Could you tell us about your Career Path?

I’ve been with Citi and its predecessor companies for the past 15 years. I began in operations support within the global custody business, where I was part of a five-person team. After spending a few years there, I moved into a network management role supporting the build-out of our custody/clearing businesses in emerging markets. One of the markets I supported was Egypt. We established the business in 1995, just as the local capital markets there began to grow at a robust pace. By 1997 the market had grown significantly and I accepted a full-time position with Citibank Egypt, relocating there from 1997 through 2002. While in Egypt I held a variety of positions in both the consumer and corporate bank groups.

I joined derivatives in 2004 with responsibility for confirmation activity. In March 2006 I was appointed head of OTC derivatives for Citigroup globally. The primary functions included confirmation, settlement and margining of OTC derivative transactions (interest rate, equity and credits). In April of this year I took on additional responsibility for our FX and Loan operations, managing approximately 850 professionals. My primary function is to define our strategy and allocate both human and technical resources toward delivering a best in class platform for our clients. Additionally, in this role I am afforded the opportunity to spend more time with our customers to gauge how our products and services can better suit their needs.

What’s a typical day like?

My day varies considerably. I travel a great deal, probably about seven to 10 days a month. My day begins at 7 a.m., and usually ends at 6:30 p.m. I work extensively with our clients, which include institutions, hedge funds, asset managers, pension and mutual funds. We have both internal and external clients, and my work involves trying to determine how to best meet their needs while trying to maintain a balance on both cost and controls. We’re regularly adding new products and there is heavy client contact, so making sure that both people and technology platforms are in place is key.

How has the business changed over the past few years?

From an operational perspective, the single biggest change in the OTC derivative and primary/secondary loan market has been the degree of industry engagement in trying to provide standardization and automation for confirmation and settlement. With the growing investment appetite for these products, the industry has been collaboratively working together to build a scalable solution that will better accommodate the trading volume required by ourselves and our counterparts.

What does it take to be successful in Derivatives Operations?

To be successful in derivatives, and this business in general, requires a fundamental knowledge of capital markets. To have an understanding of the way the cash, stock and bond markets work and affect one another goes a long way. Other areas that are important to understand are changes in foreign exchange, credit and equity derivatives. You need to be able to look at the basics of product markets and build knowledge from that. This can be done in many ways, whether it’s from information readily available on the Web or in textbooks, and through advanced certifications such as Series 7 licensing. It’s important to round out your skill set.

The people who do well in derivatives are those who can use tools like Excel and Access. We deal with large amounts of data and to be able to mine through it with these tools is critical.

Are there any organizations or publications that people should belong to or follow?

People who join our group have taken coursework in finance and quantitative areas. There are also a number of industry organizations that are helpful in networking, training, and developing skills. A couple of key organizations are the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and Loan Syndicate and Trading Association (LSTA). ISDA, which represents participants in the privately negotiated derivatives industry, is the largest global financial trade association by number of member firms. ISDA was chartered in 1985, and today has over 797 member institutions from 54 countries on six continents. LSTA is an important group in the secondary debt market, as it was designed to develop standard settlement and operational procedures and, in effect, helps make debt markets more efficient. It includes broker-dealers, investment bankers and many other market participants.