Banking

Citi eyes more U.S. branches with Fraser bullish on recovery

Citigroup Chief Executive Jane Fraser said she’s “very bullish” on the immediate outlook for the U.S. economy, and the banking giant is still planning to add more branches around the country.

Consumer spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and more Americans are hitting the road for travel as vaccines proliferate around the country, Fraser said Tuesday at an Economic Club of Chicago event. Still, she cautioned, the recovery of small businesses will be critical to ensuring the rebound is sustained.

“I’m very bullish about the immediate outlook in the U.S.,” Fraser said. “If you’d asked me a year ago, I couldn’t imagine saying this but many of the consumers are in better health right now financially than they were coming into the crisis. And we have the Federal Reserve and the stimulus packages and the different pieces that were put in place there to thank for that.”

Citigroup and its rivals are cautiously looking toward autumn in the U.S., when eviction moratoriums and many of the additional unemployment benefits are expected to expire. That could put pressure on consumers, Fraser warned.

Still, Citigroup is continuing to seek to expand its retail-branch footprint in the U.S., Fraser said. The lender — which has a presence in just six metropolitan areas across the country — has previously said it would like to open branches in cities where it already has a large base of credit card holders.

“We have a huge number of clients in the states who use our credit cards all over the country and they use our digital platforms; we’re making sure we have capabilities for them well beyond cards but in savings and investments and all the range of lending products as well,” Fraser said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you start seeing us complementing more of that with an expanded physical network as well over time.”

Fraser said Citigroup has found success with its push to limit internal Zoom meetings on Fridays, an effort designed to give employees a break from the relentless video calls that have come to dominate their working days.

At the very least, she said, it gives employees an excuse to pick a different spot in their home to work from.

“We’re trying to give everyone a break internally,” Fraser said. “I’ve slipped a couple of times, I confess, where a couple of meetings I said, ‘Look it’s easier to collaborate when we can all see each other.’ But I’ve also got to say I look forward to the Fridays sitting in an armchair and listening to and concentrating on the paper documents in front of me rather than a Zoom screen.”

The company still believes in the benefits of working from an office, especially as employees log longer hours from home, Fraser said. She said she’s tried to lead by example when it comes to achieving work-life balance, noting she’s planning to take a vacation soon and tries to log off to have dinner a few times a week with one of her sons who’s home from college.

“He may not be so thrilled — he’s 19,” she joked. “But I can’t wait.”



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