Citigroup is preparing for substantial layoffs, likely over 10% of its workforce, as new CEO Jane Fraser pursues an overhaul aimed at boosting the bank’s lagging profits. The impending job cuts have sparked anxiety across Citigroup’s ranks and raised doubts over whether Fraser can achieve her key profitability goals.
Background on Citigroup’s Challenges
When Fraser took Citigroup’s helm in early 2021, she inherited a global bank that has confounded leaders for over 15 years. Citigroup has chronically underperformed rivals, with its stock trading at half the valuation of competitors like JPMorgan. The sprawling bank has struggled with high costs and inefficient operations.
Regulatory pressures hastened the retirement of Fraser’s predecessor, Mike Corbat, in 2020. But the burdens have continued under Fraser, leaving Citigroup with the largest workforce among major U.S. banks at 240,000. While rivals trimmed staff this year, Citigroup’s headcount swelled further under Fraser.
Fraser Announces Sweeping Overhaul
In September, Fraser announced a sweeping overhaul dubbed “Project Bora Bora” aimed at finally boosting Citigroup’s subpar returns. She warned of “difficult, consequential decisions” involving job cuts. Fraser aims to lift Citigroup’s returns on tangible equity to 11% in coming years, a stretch goal considering its current 6% returns.
Analysts say deep cost cuts are the primary lever within Fraser’s control. “The only thing she can do at this point is a really substantial headcount reduction,” said Edward Jones’ James Shanahan. Failure to hit profit goals could renew calls to break up Citigroup, analysts add.
Job Cuts Expected to Top 10%
People close to the reorganization discussions say managers are targeting cuts of at least 10% across several major businesses. The total number will be finalized in the coming weeks as the process extends from upper management to rank-and-file staff.
Executives are expected to see even deeper reductions, over 10%, as Fraser eliminates overlapping roles. Chiefs of staff, administrative heads and those supporting divested businesses also face higher risks of dismissal.
While the code name evokes a tropical paradise, morale has plunged across Citigroup’s workforce since Fraser’s announcement. “People are bracing for the worst,” said one former banker contacted by anxious colleagues.
High Stakes for Citigroup’s Future
The stakes are high for Citigroup as Fraser takes steps long prescribed by analysts. Failure to hit elusive profit goals could intensify calls for more radical measures like breaking up the company.
So far, investors remain skeptical that cost cuts will be enough for Citigroup to reach Fraser’s 11% return target. “Not one investor I’ve spoken to thinks they’ll get to that return target in ’25 or ’26,” said Wells Fargo’s Mike Mayo.
Citigroup needs revenue growth too, but that looks challenging as the economy slows. That leaves expenses as the biggest controllable factor, further necessitating deep cuts. Publicly, Citigroup expects cost savings to materialize in late 2024.
Final Decision Rests with Fraser
The final scale of workforce reductions will ultimately depend on Fraser and her team. The reorganization aims to eliminate unnecessary management layers and serve clients better, not just cut costs, according to an executive.
Citigroup declined further comment beyond saying difficult decisions are required to deliver on its strategy. Fraser will likely provide more clarity on job cuts and their financial impact when fourth quarter results are announced in January.
After decades of unfulfilled turnaround plans, Fraser is under intense pressure to boost Citigroup’s lagging valuation and profits.
The impending layoffs, which could be the largest by a major U.S. bank in years, underscore the gravity of the challenges Fraser faces.
While workforce cuts alone may not satisfy skeptical investors, they exemplify Fraser’s push to finally transform Citigroup into a simpler, more efficient organization.