Citigroup CEO says many branch jobs are still safe from machines

Michael Corbat, chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Citigroup Inc. spends about $8.5 billion a year on technology, but the bank’s boss says that doesn’t mean branch workers will all be replaced by machines anytime soon

Modernizing the bank’s app and digital-banking experience won’t necessarily result in Citigroup needing fewer people in its retail bank, Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said Tuesday in a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead, it will mean “being smarter” about how those employees are used, he said.

Corbat, who said the pace of change is happening slower than most people think, said one goal is for Citigroup’s mobile application to look and feel more like popular ride-sharing or retail apps. Those efforts don’t mean abandoning the branch model because many consumers still want both experiences, he said.

“We have a large cohort of people that want their ‘I want it now’ mentality in terms of their digital banking on their app, and they want to come in our branch and they want to speak to people,” Corbat said. “We are today running an analog and a digital bank. That will change over time.”

The biggest U.S. banks have been consolidating their branch presence — a move that can sometimes result in job cuts. U.S. Bancorp, the country’s largest regional lender, last year cut 2% of its workforce as part of its efforts to reduce branch jobs.

Read more about U.S. banks’ branch-closing strategies

Citigroup has long had a smaller branch presence than many of its larger rivals. But the company has said it’s open to having a larger physical presence in the U.S. as it seeks to offer more products to credit-card customers.

In October, Corbat promoted Jane Fraser to lead the global consumer operation and help engineer the transformation of its retail bank.

Corbat said he would be proud to one day hand over the CEO reins to Fraser, who was also named president in October, but he said that decision would ultimately be made by the board.

“My job and my responsibility is to make sure that we’re preparing people,” Corbat said. “Jane has had a phenomenal career with us, and we continue that role of making sure that if and when the time comes, she’s ready.”

— Jenny Surane (Bloomberg)