A pilot program that Citibank launched two years ago to help integrate the wealth management and banking business is ready for prime time.

The pilot started with 18 relationship managers who buddied up one-on-one with financial advisors to serve affluent and high-net-work clients in a holistic manner. The original staff of 18 has grown to 220 today and many more are expected to come on board over the next two years, according to Venu Krishnamurthy, the president of Citigold, Citi’s relationship banking, borrowing and investment offering for wealthy clients.

“The relationship manager program is a nascent program, so we’re scaling it up,” Krishnamurthy said.

Under the program, relationship managers and financial advisors pair up into two-person teams, each working together as equal partners in serving clients, Krishnamurthy said.  The financial advisor provides clients with advice on investments and insurance, while the relationship manager attends to the client’s banking and borrowing needs.  Both work jointly on business development, Krishnamurthy said.

The program is one of several initiatives Krishnamurthy implemented to address one of his top priorities since he became president of Citigold more than two years ago: integrating Citi Personal Wealth Management, Citi’s wealth management program, with the bank.

“Our investments business had kind of developed almost as a stand-alone line of business in relation to the bank,” Krishnamurthy said.

The business, which dates back many years, used to be called Citicorp Investment Services. It was rebranded Citi Personal Wealth Management in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 when Citi struck a deal to sell its Smith Barney unit in phases to Morgan Stanley.

A big priority, said Krishnamurthy, was to integrate Personal Wealth Management back with the bank. It has been “pulled out of the bank fabric, had gone to Smith Barney and was coming back,” he said.

Krishnamurthy plans to bump up more than the number of relationship managers. He is also planning a significant expansion of the advisor force, which stands at 320, up from 250 when he assumed leadership of the business. In the next one to two years, he plans to increase the advisor force to between 400 and 450, he said.

Advisors and relationship managers combined total about 540 at the bank, up from 275 two years ago. His goal over the next two to two-and-a-half years is 800.

Despite fierce competition for talent, he is confident he will be able to scale up his staff. “You have to turn a lot more rocks. You have to kiss a few more frogs than you otherwise might, but there are not a lot of princes out there,” he said.

Krishnamurthy cited a variety of factors that make Citi attractive to advisors and other wealth management professionals, including the bank’s product platform and capabilities, which Krishnamurthy bragged “compare with the best of the best, including the wirehouses.” He touted the bank’s ‘open architecture’ platform and its massive client base, a big draw for entrepreneurial advisors eager to grow their business.

Nevertheless, hiring is likely to be a challenge, particularly if Citi is seeking experienced advisors with a holistic mind-set, according to Sophie Schmitt, an analyst with independent research firm Aite Group.  “I think talent in this environment is challenging where every bank is focused on growing wealth management business,” she said.

Schmitt was also skeptical about the idea of advisors and relationship managers working together as partners. Getting them to meet and coordinate phone calls jointly with clients raises issues, she noted. “It’s challenging to make that partnership work,” she said.

One roadblock that often gets in the way of such partnerships—compensation—is one the Krishnamurthy has already cleared. He restructured the compensation system to reward advisors and relationship managers based on the overall size of the client relationship.  Relationship managers therefore are not penalized if money moves from deposits to investments and advisors are not penalized if it moves into deposits.  “We structured the compensation to be a combination of all the client balances,” he said. “The client’s needs should trump any internal notions of how we measure performance.”

He has also taken other steps to reconfigure Citi’s infrastructure in an effort to advance the integration of the wealth management business into the bank. For example, he rolled out a new technology platform that provides a 360-degree view of the client’s relationship with the bank, a product platform that Krishnamurthy said will take “many years to architect and build and deploy.”

“That’s an example of an infrastructure element that transcends wealth management and goes into all aspects of what we do on the bank side,” Krishnamurthy said.

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