Deborah McWhinney, president of Citi's new Personal Banking and Wealth Management initiative, will keynote our Women Advisors Forum in New York today. The event is sold out, and the next Women Advisors Forum will take place on June 16 in Chicago.

Check out some excerpts from an interview Bank Investment Consultant conducted with her earlier this year:

Deborah McWhinney has had quite a year in her new role at Citi. While it has caused massive upheaval for transaction-heavy advisors at Citi’s post-Smith Barney brokerage operation, program head Deborah McWhinney says the effort to move all of its advisors to a fee-only platform is starting to bear fruit.

“I’ve been very pleased with the growth of our advisory assets,” McWhinney says. While she declined to give actual figures, she says that the average account size is growing. “The number of households with over $200,000 in assets is up significantly year over year, and that’s after downsizing some people and after attrition,” she says.

McWhinney says Citi isn’t dictating any minimums as far as client accounts are concerned, but “usually they will have about $250,000 to feel comfortable in a fee-based structure, given the level of service that we would provide,” she says. Clients below that asset level will go to a call center, the National Investor Center.

Citi now has close to 400 investment advisors, down from some 600 before the bankwide strategic shift, according to published reports. “I knew not all of them could make it, and that has certainly played out,” says McWhinney. “But I’m really pleased with the teams we’ve formed and we’ve had a good reception for our external RIA channel, so all in all the progress is good.”

Teams vary geographically, ranging from four to 12 advisors. They have a senior lead or a co-lead, like the typical independent firm McWhinney worked with as a president of Schwab Institutional prior to joining Citi. Leaders are either in training for or already have CFP designations. “Other team members get a lighter version but we’re training them all on fiduciary responsibilities,” McWhinney says.

The teams are in the New York tri-state area, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Florida, California, and Texas, in order of market size. “Teams are made up of advisors who have different skill sets, but who complement one other in approaches and value propositions,” McWhinney says. “We’ve moved from a proximity-based program to one based on expertise.”

Citi is now actively recruiting advisors to work in its team-based structure. Citi advisors are currently being trained to assemble these teams and how to position, brand and create mission statements for them. “By treating advisors like traditional teams, they’ll start to think of themselves more entrepreneurially, which is a big step toward their success,” McWhinney says.

Her plan is to bolster the expertise of Citi advisors with help from independent registered investment advisors (RIAs), particularly in areas where the bank’s coverage is spotty, such as Northern California. The bank is still conducting due diligence on which RIAs it will work with; a pilot program will run in San Francisco’s Bay Area and in the New York Metro area, where Citi advisors have the most potential clients and could use the support. Published reports suggest that RIAs will pay Citi a fee of 25 basis points for the referrals.

Smaller clients used to working one-on-one with an advisor are being shunted to an 800-number, but McWhinney touts the acumen of Citi’s call-center staff, all of whom have Series 7 licenses and some have CFPs. Besides serving clients with less than $250,000, the call center will also work with wealthy people who want to self-direct their investments and for wealthy clients outside the geographical reach of its investment advisors.

Citi’s investment program is also bolstering its ties to retail branches in an initiative launched on April 1. “We have an agreement with the retail bank based on the quality, not the quantity, of referrals,” McWhinney says. “The cutoff in the past was $10,000; the new agreement is significantly up from that.”

For advisors already aggressively pursuing fee-based accounts, Citi’s new model merely pushes them harder to focus on their A-clients. “From where we’re sitting it makes a lot of sense,” says Peter Darke, an advisor in senior advisor Kathy Feeney’s group in Washington, D.C. “Being exposed to the wirehouse at Smith Barney showed us to what’s profitable and what doesn’t work,” Darke says. “This is a great experiment. If we can direct small accounts to our National Investor Center, and do it successfully, then I could see our competitors moving in that direction too.”


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