When Kate Luft, Head of Retail Banking at Citi Australia, first joined the bank as a trader in New York she never imagined her career would take her to 25 different countries. But Citi has a policy of cultivating its talent and promoting mobility across the globe, offering its staff experience in multiple different functions and businesses. Kate has seen the benefits of this approach first hand.
Kate first joined Citi through its analyst graduate program in New York. After spending her first five years on the trading floor covering fixed income, equities and derivatives within Citi’s Institutional Clients Group, she moved to Citi’s global mortgage business, where she helped with strategy, hedging and securitisation. Before long Kate was on the move again, this time working on Citi’s consumer and commercial business strategy in the US.
“I was doing something completely different, but my strategic background from the mortgage business really helped me drive value within the retail business, changing our strategy from being branch heavy to an omni-channel strategy focused on digital,” she says.
Kate’s first international assignment was in Latin America, where she assisted the regional CEO with strategy across 23 different countries. She was based in Mexico City, but spent time on the ground in Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador, as well as in Central America and the Caribbean.
“My career at Citi has been across different products, different businesses, and different countries,” she says.
“Being in a global versus regional role is very different and provides new and interesting experiences. Within Latin America, Kate was looking at everything from operations to macro-economics and country dynamics.
Kate’s current role is in Australia, where she is Head of Retail Banking, focused on driving growth within Citi’s retail business and trying new strategies that could be utilised across its almost 100-country network if successful.
Citi has a strong reputation for cultivating its talent and is one of the main reasons Kate has stayed with the bank for so long.
“The greatest thing about Citi is the mentorship. At every level, from the most junior to the most senior, even around our CEO table, everyone has different mentorships, which really connects our organisation. I have contacts in nearly every country that Citi is in.”
This connectivity means that when opportunities arise or when businesses are facing challenges, Citi can tap into its global network to find the best talent for the situation.
Citi also has an annual talent review process, during which the CEO’s table spends weeks going through the bank’s talent book to ensure they are familiar with all the talent in the organisation and how these people want to progress their careers.
“We are a big believer in secondments and exporting talent around the globe. It is really great to see such a large organisation also be so small,” she says.
In Australia, Citi’s wealth management business has recently undergone a shift in its strategy away from retail clients to focus on the wholesale clients in its predominantly high net worth client base.
Kate explains: “Where we can really add value is in the high net worth space. Our products offer access to different currencies and markets around the world, and that access is usually sought out by high net worth clients for diversification.”
She adds that Citi is also expanding its digital capabilities, not only for its high net worth clients, but for its broader customer base as well. “From deposits, to foreign exchange, to mortgages, we are becoming much more digitally savvy as a bank.”
Another area in which Citi is differentiating itself from its competitors is in foreign exchange. “Being in over 90 countries gives us access to all the different currencies at very competitive rates, so we are bringing that more to the Australian market,” she says.
Kate says Citi is always looking for new talent to join the bank, particularly people who are passionate about customers and building personal relationships.
“Citi offers its advisers, or relationship managers as they are called internally, the best of both worlds; we have access to the network and expertise that comes from being a part of a large global bank, but are nimbler and smaller in Australia, which allows us to react faster than some of our competitors.”
Kate sees Citi’s client mix of onshore and offshore investors as being another advantage for relationship managers, as well as the exposure they can get to different products and markets.
She explains: “The Australian market is very dependent on equities, mortgages and property. Citi offers these, but we expand education for relationship managers to include different products, whether it is fixed income in the US or new issuance in Europe.”
She points out that relationship managers in Australia will also have the chance, like all Citi employees, to move to different jurisdictions.
“It really is an opportunity to go and see the world if that is what you desire.”
To anyone thinking of joining the bank, Kate says: “I think the opportunities, the experience, the development, and the focus on your personal career that you get at Citi is something you won’t get elsewhere. I am very passionate about Citi and what Citi has done for me.”