Deborah McWhinney, who led a controversial restructuring among Citigroup’s bank brokers, is moving into a non-advisor role at the global financial giant. McWhinney, president of personal banking and wealth management, will take over a newly-created position as head of global digital merchant acquiring. She will oversee the bank’s efforts to help large multinational clients process online, mobile and digital transactions across international borders; McWhinney will report to Paul Galant, chief executive of global enterprise payments. Her boss while at personal banking, U.S. Consumer and Personal Banking President Cece Stewart, hasn’t selected a successor yet, McWhinney told Registered Rep. today. There’s no timeframe, either, she added. “She’d rather have the right person than hurry along.”
Bank brokers at Citi (NYSE:C) left in large numbers starting in 2009 after the bank sold a majority of its Smith Barney brokerage as part of a joint venture with Morgan Stanley. McWhinney, who joined Citi in March 2009, steered the remaining bank brokers toward a fee-only advisory system that involved joining teams or facing a cut in their payout. The bank advisors’ numbers dropped from 553 in June 2009 to 307 in February 2010. Citi says it now has about 400 financial advisors and consultants.
Two things that Citi’s advisors were expecting to come to pass have not done so — yet. Commission-based business continues at Citi, although brokers had concerns it would be dropped by this year. “We encourage the advisors to use fee-based because we want them to have an ongoing relationship with clients and have clients in longer-term portfolios. Our intention is to keep the commissions as part of how we do business with clients,” McWhinney said. “That was always the strategy, because there’s no one solution that’s best for everyone.” Both commission and fee-based business have grown in the past year, with fee-based showing stronger growth, she added, declining to elaborate.
The other issue that troubled Citi advisors was the bank’s plan to refer clients to outside RIAs who would pay Citi a fee based on the assets that came over. McWhinney said the plan is on hold as the result of a U.S. Department of Labor ruling last fall regarding the management of retirement assets. “We put the program on pause to see how that comes out. Right now we’re growing organically, and that’s going quite well,” she said. She acknowledged that advisors were concerned about losing assets through the proposal, but added that advisors are getting more referrals through the bank that are leading to more business. “When they see results, a lot of their concerns go away,” she said.” I think the teams that we’ve formed really leveraged each other and have gained a lot of confidence with our clients. The branches are much more comfortable referring business to us, which is very helpful.”
This report was updated to reflect current advisor count at Citi.