Annals of Deckchair Rearrangement, Citigroup Asia Edition

Tony Munroe of Reuters does his best today to report on the latest changes to the Citigroup Asia org chart, but it’s not an easy task — especially when the regional CEO, Ajay Banga, starts talking about bringing "the organizations and geographies together under one cluster head". Which is about as meaningless as management-speak gets.

Indeed, rather than simplifying anything, Banga seems to have created a patchwork of four sub-regions and seven product groupings. "Previously," says Munroe, "Citigroup’s Asia business was led by heads of its institutional clients group, global wealth management and consumer units." That’s three people, by my count. Now there’s Banga himself, plus four sub-regional heads, and seven more product heads, being careful not to double-count the sub-regional head who’s also a product head (Stephen Bird, who gets North Asia and consumer banking) or Banga himself, who’s directly overseeing the alternative-investments group.

Deeply emedded somewhere in this new matrix is some portion of the $400 billion in non-core assets which CEO Vikram Pandit wants to sell off, if only he can identify what they are. If you wanted to make such an operation as difficult as possible, you might well engineer a management shake-up along the lines of what Banga has now announced.

But the saddest part of Munroe’s story is Banga’s rationale for imposing all this on his 70,000 employees:

"I want the client not to have to navigate Citigroup. I want us to navigate Citigroup and bring it together at the front end for them…

If you’ve got the business run through products it’s very difficult to make everything come together across product lines for a client," Banga said.

This is exactly what Citi has been saying ever since the merger with Salomon Smith Barney a decade ago. There’s nothing new here, just the same old rhetoric. And with the nine (count ’em) different product heads in the Asia-Pacific region alone, I very much doubt anything’s going to change this time round, either.

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