Citigroup’s wealth-management offerings have long paled in comparison to rivals. The firm finished 2021 with $7.5 billion in wealth-management revenue, a 7.6% increase from five years earlier. That compares with jumps of more than 11% at Bank of America Corp. and 23% at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
For Fraser, the decision to expand the bank’s wealth-management offerings was “blindingly obvious,” she said at Citigroup’s investor day earlier this year. Even before she took over as CEO last year, Fraser merged the firm’s wealth-management and private-banking units and plucked longtime trading executive Jim O’Donnell to lead the combined operation.
Within months, O’Donnell unveiled how he planned to structure the new operation, settling on three components for the push: The private bank, led by Ida Liu, focuses on the world’s wealthiest individuals and their family offices. Citigold, led by Fabio Fontainha, serves individuals with as much as $10 million in assets. Then there’s Wealth at Work.
With Vahid, Fraser and O’Donnell are relying on a 35-year veteran of the bank to lead Citigroup’s push into what O’Donnell has called “the fastest growing channel in the industry.”
“We are uniquely positioned to build a winning business here,” O’Donnell told investors in March. “We know our strategy works because we’ve road tested it for the last 50 years with our law-firm group.”
Vahid arrived in the US when she was 16, after she and her brother fled their native Iran during the nation’s 1979 revolution. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Vahid took a job as a temp in the loan office for Citigroup’s private bank.
In those early days, she took graduate-school classes nights and weekends. After receiving her master’s from Columbia University, she ultimately became a banker. By the early 2000s, she was running one of Citigroup’s largest client books.
The bank named her head of the law-firm group in 2009. At that time, the business was producing annual revenue of $220 million. This year, it’s on track to generate more than $700 million.
The firm has already inked an agreement with two asset managers and began working with their employees in recent weeks. It also signed its first deal for the part of the unit focused on enterprise companies such as consultancies and accounting firms.
“We’re expanding this strategy to other, select industries,” Fraser said during the company’s annual shareholder meeting in April. “Our goal is to build a best-in-class experience for our clients and a high-returning business for our shareholders.”