Citi goes for yin and Jan in Asia

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By:
Matthew Thomas
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Citi’s network banking model can sometimes sound rather old-fashioned; Jan Metzger, Citi’s CIB head in Asia Pacific, is a tech geek who can talk for hours about whatever is new – you know what they say about opposites…

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Jan Metzger is not your typical banker. The German-born dealmaker, who was appointed Citi’s head of Asia-Pacific banking, capital markets and advisory in December, has a background that sets him apart from his peers.

Metzger studied economics and computer science with artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, UK.

After graduating, he used his programming skills at a startup that created voice recognition software. There is a video floating around the internet showing a 21-year-old Metzger in an ill-fitting suit, pitching his idea on stage with all the verve of Steve Jobs.

Metzger talks about those days with a Dickensian flair.

“I lived in a bedsit, which is an English way of saying a hole with a bed,” he told a group of students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Cold showers and coding is all I did.”

Metzger is prone to bursts of excitement when talking about shifts in technology or game-changing deals. He yells – or even slams the table – to make a point. But while this could come across as a display of machismo in other bankers, with Metzger it seems to be a natural outpouring of an abundance of energy. 

It appears there is a method to his madness. Metzger has spent the last three years helping to turn Citi into a powerhouse in Asia’s technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) sector. In 2018 alone, he helped the firm win landmark deals such Ant Financial’s $14 billion Series-C equity placement, Naspers’ $10 billion sale of shares in Tencent and Ping An Good Doctor’s $1.1 billion IPO.

A German startup veteran might not seem the most obvious choice to run the Asian corporate and investment banking team of a bank that generates much of its revenue from rather stolid business lines such as transaction banking and trade services. But Metzger’s rise to the top says a lot about how Citi is positioning itself in the region – and suggests that he is the right man to push the bank forward. 

One-stop shop

Citi’s pitch to its clients is simple: the bank’s global network and its diverse offering of services means it can be a one-stop shop for global companies who need the full panoply of services, from cash management to acquisition advice. 

The combination of geographical spread and strength across various different areas of banking means Citi is attempting something that few other banks – perhaps only HSBC and JPMorgan – could attempt.

No one at Citi uses the term ‘financial supermarket’ anymore (that model was ditched by then-chief executive Vikram Pandit in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis), but the new Citi has a lot of the hallmarks of the Citi of old

The crucial difference is that while the old Citi stressed its ability to be all things to all customers, the new Citi puts the emphasis on offering all things to a more select customer base, rather like a high-end supermarket.

The ideal Citi client is a company that is present in multiple countries and needs a combination of cash management, short-term trade financing, hedging, capital-raising, corporate finance advisory and all the other services you can imagine. 

The classic examples, eyed jealously by rivals, are Alibaba and Samsung.

Citi remains tight-lipped about how much work it does for these two coveted companies, but judging from the public transactions, the relationships are clearly strong.

In 2018, Citi worked on two follow-on equity sales for members of the Samsung Group, a $7 billion multi-tranche bond for Alibaba and a $14 billion equity placement for Ant Financial, among other transactions. The fees from these deals often pale in comparison with the revenues Citi can generate from day-to-day corporate banking relationships with the same clients.

This connect-the-dots model is undoubtedly profitable. Citi earned $2.31 billion from its institutional clients group (ICG) in Asia during the first nine months of 2018, an increase of 30% from the same period in 2017. 

That, along with similar results in EMEA and Latin America, helped paper over a fall in the North American business, where profits shrank 20%. 


I don’t want to be melodramatic, but Good Doctor has changed the world 
 - Jan Metzger, Citi

Citi is clearly making the most of its approach to banking, boasting client relationships that touch on almost all areas of the business. But the risk to the model is the great unknown facing banks worldwide: which companies will be worth banking in the future?

There was a time when those companies at the very top of the pyramid seemed almost untouchable. That time is gone. 

Ford, which invented the affordable car and has been a household name for more than a century, is now worth much less than Uber, a nine-year-old company that allows anyone to provide a taxi service. 

General Electric, a 126-year-old industrial firm that was once the epitome of management excellence, is now in the middle of an existential crisis and was booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index.

How can banks keep up with this fast-changing corporate environment? How can Citi make sure that it not only banks Alibaba but also develops a relationship with the next Alibaba, and the one after that?

There are a couple of ways Citi executives think the bank can tackle this problem. The first is by using the insight it already has into growing companies. 

The bank’s supply chain finance team gets to see first-hand how Citi customers’ suppliers are doing, in terms of both how much business they are already getting from Citi’s client base and how efficiently they’re able to service these clients. 

This approach, which other banks are also using, allows Citi to turn a relationship with a large corporation into a series of additional relationships with its suppliers.

The second is by using its large commercial banking division. 

Citi has more than 10,000 commercial banking clients in Asia. That gives it insights into some of the fastest-growing small companies in the region. Citi can use this information not simply to prepare a full-scale treatment for these companies when they grow, but to help them grow now, in part by opening the door to the capital markets. 

A good example is China’s Ganfeng Lithium, which Asiamoney understands is a commercial banking client for Citi. The company raised $421 million from a Hong Kong IPO in October; Citi was the sole sponsor.

“This is the beauty of the commercial bank,” says Metzger. “The commercial bank can add value for much smaller companies. That makes it a great radar for us to find the next giant companies. 

“Companies are springing up so quickly in Asia. We want to offer all of our banking services to them, but sometimes we do a deal for a company that we don’t have a relationship with. That’s our way in to a wider relationship.”

Asiamoney posits that the third way Citi will position itself for the future is by elevating bankers like Metzger. He is likely to be tracking the clients of the future not just because he is obsessed with clients, but because he is obsessed with the future, too.

Symbolic

That becomes apparent the moment you sit down with him. Metzger insists on meeting at the Starbucks outlet below Asiamoney’s offices in Hong Kong, where we talk amid the din of screaming babies and over-excited schoolchildren.

“What are you using to record this interview?” he asks.

It is not the question of a man worried about going on the record, but the curiosity of a tech nerd. He pulls out his own phone to demonstrate a new app for voice recording that comes with plenty of bells and whistles. He looks slightly disappointed when Asiamoney reveals we are using the default programme on the iPhone. 

This was symbolic of our meeting, perhaps even for Metzger’s approach to working at Citi. He is obsessed with technology, extolling the virtues of driverless trucks and digital stylists. He gets particularly animated when talking about how new technology – or the creative uses of existing technology — can change the world.

When Citi helped Ping An Healthcare and Technology raise $1.1 billion from a Hong Kong listing in April 2018, it was doing just the sort of business that gets Metzger excited. 

The company is behind the Good Doctor app, which uses artificial intelligence to provide medical advice to its users.

Metzger tells Asiamoney about the huge potential of Good Doctor. 

“I don’t want to be melodramatic, but it has changed the world,” he says. He talks about the role big data can play in identifying correlations between seemingly inconsequential habits and eventual medical conditions. He spends almost 10 minutes rhapsodizing about the company and its services, discussing the historical accidents that have led to medical breakthroughs in the past. 

“How did you win the mandate?” Asiamoney asks.

“We showed unbelievable passion,” he says.

And what does Ping An say about the Good Doctor transaction? 

“We chose Citi to be the sponsor of the deal because Citi always puts client’s interest first, delivers high-quality results through diligent work, and dedicates full-platform resources once the client is on board. The success of our IPO proves we made the right choice,” says the firm.

Metzger is certainly not the only one at the bank who can talk the talk with technology entrepreneurs. He frequently gives credit to James Perry, Citi’s head of technology in Asia Pacific, and other members of the team. But the fact that Metzger has seen the world from his client’s perspective adds an X-factor to the pitch of a bank that is increasingly dealing with startup billionaires instead of grizzled veterans who have worked their way up the corporate ladder.

Eye-catching

The importance of technology companies to Citi’s Asian revenues is perhaps most apparent in investment banking. The US bank has pulled off a stellar performance in Asia’s technology sector this year, winning some of the most prominent deals and vaulting up the league tables.

Most eye-catching is the performance of the bank’s technology M&A business in Asia Pacific. It worked on $38.5 billion of TMT deals in the region in the first 11 months of 2018, according to Dealogic. 

That put it third in the league table, behind Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. Perhaps more impressively, it means Citi’s volumes in 2018 eclipsed the sum total of its last three years of Asian TMT business. 

Citi’s capital markets origination division has also had an outstanding year. To be sure, the team is strong in most sectors – among its highlights this year were a $2.3 billion convertible bond from Evergrande Group, a $4.1 billion loan for the acquisition of GLP and an innovative project finance loan securitization for Singapore’s Clifford Capital, whose largest shareholder is Temasek Holdings. 

But it is the bank’s deals in the technology sector that have really turned heads, showing an investment banking strength that adds a serious edge to Citi’s network banking model


It was the biggest private placement ever done and it’s the sort of deal that our competitors will tell you Citi has no chance of winning 
 - Jan Metzger

For example, Citi was a global coordinator in the $10 billion follow-on offering in Tencent’s shares by Naspers, a South African media conglomerate. The company was monetizing part of what must be one of the most successful investments in history: the $32 million it put into Tencent in 2001 was worth more than $175 billion by the time of the share sale. 

Naspers enjoyed some lucky timing. When it sold the Tencent shares in March 2018, they were trading at HK$439.40 ($56.20); by early December, they had fallen to HK$322.60. But the company also benefited from expert execution by Citi and its joint global coordinators, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. 

The three banks were confident enough about their read of the market that they opened the order book without wall-crossing investors. They covered the entire deal within two hours and ended up with demand of $23 billion, allowing them to pull off one of the largest follow-on offerings in history.

Ant Financial

Metzger gets particularly excited talking about a pair of deals involving Ant Financial that show the way Citi can make the most of its all-encompassing relationships even when a big client is not offering a mandate.

A clear win was Citi’s role as an adviser to Ant Financial when the company raised $14 billion from a Series-C equity round in June. The deal received demand from a who’s-who of global investors, including the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Khazanah Nasional, GIC, Temasek and Carlyle.

“It was the biggest private placement ever done and it’s the sort of deal that our competitors will tell you Citi has no chance of winning,” Metzger says. 

He adds that during the pitching process, Citi highlighted everything it was doing for Ant Financial, making the most of its connect-the-dots model to convince Ant’s executives that Citi – already a trusted partner – could be trusted to deliver with the equity placement.

When Citi worked on Ant Financial’s acquisition of a stake in Pakistan’s Telenor Microfinance Bank, its relationship with the Chinese technology company was also a boost, but not in the way you might think. 

Citi worked as a sell-side adviser on that transaction – Ant Financial chose to go it alone – but there is little doubt that the bank’s relationship with Ant Financial helped convince Telenor that Citi would be able to add value.

It was also an example of the bank bringing teams across different business lines and geographies together in a way that many rival banks talk about, but few are able to achieve.

“That was a good example of the whole bank working together,” he says. “That deal was worked on by the London telecoms team, regional coverage bankers, Pakistani country coverage bankers, Middle East execution bankers, Asian technology bankers, Asian FIG bankers. And it’s Belt and Road. And it’s a cross-over between fintech and traditional businesses. And it’s emerging markets. It’s everything.”

Leaders

Citi’s Asian business is far from being a one-man show. 

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Francisco Aristeguieta, Gerry Keefe, Ashu Khullar, Rajesh Mehta and Stuart Staley

Francisco Aristeguieta, who became chief executive of Citi’s Asia-Pacific business in June 2015, has “torn down the silos” between the different business lines, according to one Citi insider. He also has ensured that Citi has a world-class leader in each of its core areas.

Gerry Keefe, head of corporate banking in Asia Pacific, has spent 12 years at Citi, most recently as the head of the corporate bank in Japan. He was given the brief of reorganizing Citi’s disconnected corporate banks in the region into a whole that, as Aristeguieta previously told Asiamoney, “prioritizes content over geography”. 

His knowledge of content is unquestioned: Keefe previously ran Citi’s global securitized products team. 

Ashu Khullar, Citi’s head of Asia-Pacific capital markets origination, has seen many sides of the bank. He joined Citi as a relationship manager in 1988 and worked his way up to co-head of loans structuring and syndications in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 

That led to a job jointly running the corporate bank in EMEA before he was picked to super-charge Citi’s capital markets team in Asia. There are few bankers who will better understand how to combine Citi’s strengths across the corporate and investment bank.

Rajesh Mehta, head of treasury and trade solutions in Asia Pacific, is another Citi veteran. He joined the bank 34 years ago and has run cash management and transaction banking teams around the world for Citi, including taking charge in Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and the United Kingdom. He is now based in Hong Kong.

Stuart Staley, head of markets and securities services in Asia Pacific ex-Japan, is the final piece of the puzzle. 

Like Metzger, he took his new job in March, having previously been global head of Citi’s commodities business in London. He joined the bank in 2004, having previously been chief executive of AEP Energy Services, a US commodities trader.

That leaves Metzger. He is a relative newcomer to the US bank, having joined in 2015 from Credit Suisse, where he was head of TMT investment banking, Asia Pacific. But his swift elevation shows that Aristeguieta sees him as a crucial cog in his plans to pull off a business model that almost none of Citi’s rivals can follow.