Updated from 12:38 p.m. ESTCitigroup ( C - Get Report) CEO Vikram Pandit's days leading the large banking institution may be numbered as he struggles to keep the ship afloat as it continues to take on water. Reports surfaced late Tuesday that Citi's agreement with Morgan Stanley ( MS - Get Report) to create a brokerage joint venture would be the first in a series of initiatives that would essentially take apart the financial supermarket model former CEO Sandy Weill built a decade ago. The troubled bank on Wednesday moved up its fourth-quarter earnings release date by six days, as Wall Street braces for the banking institution's fifth straight quarter of losses and a possible formal announcement of the new initiatives. Citi will now report results Friday morning, instead of Jan. 22, as previously scheduled. Shares were falling 22% in recent trading to $4.60. Citi is apparently looking to reduce its size by one third, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The bank will announce plans to shed two consumer finance units and its private-label credit card business and reduce the amount of trading it does on its own behalf. It plans to focus on large corporate business and more affluent individuals, the Journal says. The moves are an about-face for CEO Vikram Pandit, who as recently as November re-affirmed his commitment to the financial supermarket model, despite the company's decision last year to shed smaller non-core businesses. Richard Parsons, a former Time Warner ( TWX) CEO and lead independent director at Citi, told the Journal on Sunday that the board has "confidence in the current management and leadership of Vikram." But the bank's predicament is only going to increase the cries for his ouster coming from some investors.
"Up until very recently he was a
big defender of the financial supermarket model -- which they are now abandoning -- and if they're breaking with the path, I think the biggest signal would be to change leadership," says Richard Ferlauto, the director of corporate governance and pension investment at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, a frequent critic of Pandit. "He should have made a decision when he first took the reins about changing the business model and that way preserved significant shareholder value that's been lost in the past year." The New York company is under pressure from regulators to make more drastic changes to find additional capital. Citi has already received $45 billion through the Treasury Department's Troubled Assets Relief Program -- making the government its largest investor -- along with other private and public sector capital investments. Selling a majority stake of its profitable Smith Barney business to Morgan Stanley is another effort to raise capital. Pandit took Citi's reins in December 2007, following the forced resignation of Charles Prince. The company, along with Merrill Lynch, recently acquired by Bank of America ( BAC - Get Report) , suffered the worst of the losses stemming from the credit crunch. Citi had purchased hedge fund Old Lane Partners earlier that year, which Pandit had been running. He previously worked as head of investment securities at Morgan Stanley. Since then, Citi's management has slowly changed over as Pandit sought to bring in his own executives.
Robert Druskin, a longtime Citi executive and the former COO, left shortly after Pandit's appointment. Last Friday, senior adviser and director Robert Rubin, who has endured criticism for his role in encouraging Citi's involvement in the type of risky assets that helped lead to its undoing, said he was quitting his post and not seeking re-election to the board. "Historically, investment bankers were not known for creating great leadership talent, rather they created great dealmakers," says Carter Burgess, a managing director and head of board recruiting at RSR Partners in Greenwich, Conn. "That's the world he comes from." "I'm not sure if he's CEO material," Burgess says, referring to the ability to communicate effectively, to "walk the halls and get the team behind him," to have a clear strategic vision and the ability to delegate responsibility, he says. Pandit's wavering of strategic vision for Citi is "endemic of someone that may not have the skill set," he says. Burgess says the same goes for Citi's directors, where the likes of big-league names such as Parsons, Alain Belda of Alcoa ( AA - Get Report), Anne Mulcahy of Xerox ( XRX) and Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical ( DOW), sit on the board. In terms of the independent directors, few -- if any -- truly understand Citi's business, Burgess says. Financial services is "really something to get your arms around," he says. Besides Rubin, Burgess and others say that more of Citi's board members will change over before the repositioning is complete.
"It seems likely that the non-banking leaders in this company are likely to be purged creating yet one more wave of management changes in the institution," Richard Bove, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann, writes in a note Wednesday. "It also seems likely that non-banking businesses will be sold and/or downsized. Citigroup is going back in time to when it was a strong dominant player in the global markets selling consumer and commercial financial products, transaction services, and trading services for its customers' benefits. This will be positive." Alois Pirker, a senior analyst at independent research and advisory firm Aite Group, says that Pandit is doing a good job for the most part. "He is as good as any other person," Pirker says. "The realities are very harsh there. ... Realistically the problems stem from way earlier than his tenure." Still Pirker says that Pandit has not been forceful and quick enough with the company's internal restructuring. Pandit works "less from the gut" and "more from the brain," similar to a management consultant, he says. "He wants to know figures, he wants to know numbers," before making a decision, but once he does "he is very quick in his execution," he adds. Bove writes that the financial supermarket model is not dead, but rather is "the wave of the present and future in banking." He cites Wells Fargo ( WFC - Get Report) as the best example of the model working. "Citigroup was simply a misdirected organization," Bove adds.