Bird’s promotion recognises strengths of Citi Asia

By:
Rob Hartley
Published on:

Move raises profile of Asia Pacific; Bird heralds ‘Asia’s century’.

The most senior banker at Citi Asia Pacific, Stephen Bird, is to leave the region to take up a position in New York as CEO of the firm’s global consumer bank.

Stephen Bird 2-160x186
 I firmly believe we are just starting out on what will be Asia’s century

Stephen Bird,
Citi

Seventeen-year Citi veteran Bird will take up his new position on June 1, replacing the retiring Manuel Medina-Mora. Current Latin America CEO, Francisco Aristeguieta is replacing Bird.

Bird’s move is widely viewed as recognition among Citi top brass of Asia’s growing importance and the need to have people with a strong understanding of the region at the highest levels of the bank.

“When I first came to the region in 1998, Asia was just recovering from the financial crisis,” Bird tells Euromoney. “The progress since then has been remarkable. I firmly believe we are just starting out on what will be Asia’s century.”

Citi Asia grew into the highest-earning division of the bank after north America under Bird’s leadership. In recent years several people from his team have moved into senior leadership roles for Citi, including global head of risk Brad Hu, global consumer CFO Nick Lyall, global retail bank head Jonathan Larsen and global head of FX Nadir Mahmud.

“I am also incredibly proud of the team in Asia that I have worked with, and it is very rewarding to see many of them move into global roles,” says Bird. “We have incredible talent in Asia and to see some of this talent being challenged further with global roles just underlines the important role Asia is playing in our company’s future.”

Citi has just recorded strong first quarter earnings in Asia Pacific, with revenue up 5% year-on-year to $3.3 billion and ebit up 18% for the same period to $1.5 billion.

Highlights

Bird says the strategic progress Citi has made in China is a business highlight of the time he has spent in the region. “China already generates over $1 billion in revenue a year for Citi, and I am confident that one day it may well be our largest market outside north America,” he says. 

Citi recently appointed Catherine Cai from Bank of America Merrill Lynch as managing director, chairman and head of China investment banking. A source at BAML said this was one of Bird’s most notable recent achievements, and that Citi’s recruitment of Cai was “painful” and a “big loss” but a “huge hire” for Citi. “Hiring Catherine was perfect timing,” says the BAML source. “[Bird] can go back to New York and say he has left it in good hands.” The BAML source adds that having Bird further up the echelons of the Citi hierarchy can only be good for Citi Asia.

The appointment of Aristeguieta has, however, raised the question of why someone from within the Asia business was not promoted into the role, but a Citi source says the experience of running the large, high-growth market of Latin America was key to the choice of Aristeguieta. One of his early goals could be to use his background to push commercial banking, where Citi has “maybe been a bit behind the curve,” says the source.

Bird, born and raised in Motherwell, Scotland, is personable and well-regarded both within Citi and across the market as a whole.

“He is one of the most astute businessmen I have seen,” says a second Citi source, who has worked closely with Bird. “He reads a lot. He knows a lot before he comes into a meeting about a subject. I think that there are not many people in New York that understand Asia, so having him there will be very helpful as it will continue to grow in importance.”

Bird was previously joint-CEO of Citi Asia-Pacific with responsibility for north Asia. From 2006 to 2008, he was head of consumer banking in Asia Pacific, responsible for the retail banking, credit cards and consumer lending businesses. Before that, he served four years in Citi Japan as CEO of credit cards and consumer finance. Earlier, he was head of operations and technology for Citi Latin America, covering all of Citi’s businesses in 23 countries. He joined Citi in 1998 in Singapore as Asia Pacific head for operations and technology.

“Asia is the largest region for Citi outside north America and it’s a well-balanced business,” adds Bird. “I am confident that this region will continue to deliver a sustainable annuity income for Citi. In my new role I will also continue to be actively involved in Asia with half of our 24 consumer markets in Asia. I look forward to continuing the partnership with colleagues in the region and I’m confident that Francisco and our team here will be able to take the region to the next level because there is a long runway of growth ahead.”