Citi's Pandit is feeling the heat from a number of groups, including regulators, the board, frustrated investors, even employees and customers, who are all anxious for him to get the bank moving again. However, if Pandit "moves out of survival mode too soon, he will be crucified," Sabino says. "But if he moves slowly and is cautious then obviously the board will criticize him," all while JPMorgan is "eating their lunch."

"In troubled times like this if you're going to err; it's better to err on the side of caution. If you make a misstep now, you're really going to be in trouble," Sabino says.

Citi isn't the only big financial firm at a crossroads. Once Bank of America names a successor to outgoing CEO Ken Lewis, moving forward will be the "key issue" confronting the new CEO at BofA, he adds.

"The continuing delay in the search ... has now reached the danger level. At this point, shareholders, customers, employees are losing confidence," Sabino says. "It begets the second issue -- whoever that successor is that person is immediately going to be confronted by the board. That person will have to make a difficult choice," between remaining in survival mode or shifting gears to performance and growth.

"The bottom line it's going to be tough for them to change gears," he says.

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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