Ida Liu from Citi Private Bank North America: Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Finance
This month, we had the privilege to speak with Ida Liu – the CEO of Citi Private Bank North America.
A former investment banker and fashion executive, Ida has over 23 years of global experience and a strong track record of creating and implementing strategy, building exceptional teams and delivering record results. We hear more about her experience in several different industries across North America, Europe and Asia and her insights into achieving gender equality in finance below.
Despite the progress that’s been made regarding gender balance in the sector, the percentage of women in leadership roles within financial services firms still sits at only 21.9%. In your opinion, what should be done to achieve gender equality in financial services leadership?
Gender equality and inclusion is a top priority for me and Citi, and we set clear recruiting targets for women and minority groups to ensure that our teams are as diverse as the clients we serve. For example, I am pleased to be the senior sponsor of recruiting for my alma mater, Wellesley College, where we have put in place a case competition for high performing students to strategise on a business solution, and the winners are awarded interview slots. In 2020, 50% of Citi Private Bank’s new hires in North America were women. We must continue to create a culture and an environment that allows for women and minorities to thrive. At Citi, we have leadership development programs for women and minority groups, which provide career advancement resources. We are focused on supporting, mentoring and preparing our female and diverse talent to achieve success in their future roles. Jane Fraser, our new CEO will provide a positive impact on younger generations of leaders – seeing is believing! We are also proud that our board of directors is 50% women, which sets industry standards!
As you mentioned, Jane Fraser is Citi’s new CEO, which makes her the first woman to lead one of Wall Street’s biggest banks. Can you tell us more about what Citi does to encourage gender equality within the organisation?
It was a proud moment for all of us when Mike Corbat announced Jane Fraser would become our next CEO and the first woman to lead a global, Wall Street bank! At Citi Private Bank, we have made progress with 40% women on my leadership team and 2/3 of the team identifying as diverse (LGBTQ+, racial or veterans status). We are big believers in “what gets measured gets done,” which is why we took the step of becoming the first major financial institution to publish our gender pay gap numbers, giving us clear targets to work toward. We have also expanded our Paid Parental Leave Policy for Citi employees and launched several programs targeting high-achieving female managers and executives that have successfully supported women’s advancement and retention at Citi. This is a small sample of the work we are doing to close gender equity gaps.
The way you’ve got into Citi is quite interesting. Can you tell us about it?
I began my career in investment banking and spent seven years in the industry, half the time in New York and the other half in Hong Kong. However, after seven years, I decided it was time for a pivot – I moved into the fashion industry, where I worked for a women’s wear designer Vivienne Tam. While working in fashion, designers would ask me “how should I invest my money?” or “what stocks should I buy?”. I realised there was a massive void in the marketplace for wealth management solutions for fashion executives. As a result, I launched and headed the first-ever Fashion, Media, and Entertainment practice for Citi Private Bank fourteen years ago. A few years later, I had another “aha” moment after witnessing the massive growth of wealth from Asia. I launched and created the North America Asian Clients Group at the Private Bank – a team dedicated to serving the unique needs of our mega-wealth Asian clients, whose needs were often complex, diverse, and global in nature. This group was the precursor for our Global Client Service platform, which serves clients and their families globally, one of Citi Private Bank’s unique value propositions.
In 2015, I became Head of New York, and for the past two years, I have been the Head of Citi Private Bank North America, overseeing operations in 25 offices and serving over 5,000 worldly and wealthy clients, including 30% of the billionaires in North America.
Tell us about your career and the difficulties you’ve faced on your way up the corporate ladder? Have there been any challenges connected to your gender?
This past year has proven to be the most challenging in my career, particularly as a working mother of two young children. The pandemic, unfortunately, exacerbated the situation for many as we became virtual educators, caretakers, all while navigating a team through the pandemic! We focused on the health and wellness of our employees and ensured they were supported during this time. We offered resources to our teams on a weekly basis – including doctors, nutritionists, exercise coaches, even a Buddhist monk for meditation and mindfulness practices! We continue to provide flexibility for our team to work from home when needed and will remain committed to supporting our colleagues.
What’s your advice to younger women who aspire to success in the world of finance?
Women feel the need to be 110% qualified to apply for a new role. We must urge our female colleagues to take risks and calculated “stretch” assignments in their careers. Get out of the comfort zone! It is also extremely important to have both mentors and sponsors. I have three types of mentors – senior mentors, peer mentors, and junior mentors because this allows for multiple perspectives and viewpoints. I have found that quite often, my junior mentors give me the most creative and “out-of-the-box” advice! It is also important to have mentors outside of your industry to provide different ideas. Lastly, I am a firm believer that “if you don’t ask, you won’t get it!” So get out there and be an advocate for yourself. You won’t have a better cheerleader.
We focused on the health and wellness of our employees and ensured they were supported during this time.
Despite the pandemic, you’ve had a very good year for new client acquisition at Citi Private Bank. What do you attribute this to?
At the start of the pandemic, we thought new client acquisition was going to be a challenge, particularly given we were all working from home. However, we delivered a record new client acquisition year, exceeding our new client targets by 20% in 2020. This is a testament to our team’s client-centric focus, and during the pandemic, we doubled our calling and zoom interactions with our clients. We pride ourselves on our strong relationship management, and the pandemic showcased our ability to go above and beyond for our clients! We also achieved the highest Voice of the Client survey results, which is a proud reflection of the excellent teamwork and our continued focus on advising our clients through good times and bad.
What do you do to attract millennial and Gen Z clients to Citi Private Bank?
We have a family coverage approach at Citi Private Bank. We want to advise the entire family nucleus and be a wealth partner for years to come. We restructured our client coverage model to an apprenticeship model. Our senior bankers cover the matriarchs and patriarchs, while junior bankers cover the Next Generation, and associate bankers cover Millennials and Gen Z clients. Not only does this allow for seamless coverage across the full family of wealth, but it allows for younger clients to form a stronger relationship with our younger bankers. In 2020 we launched the North America Next Generation Advisory Board, to better target and personalise the experiences for their unique and evolving needs. We know that our NextGen and Millennial clients are technologically savvy, and we continue to invest heavily in our digital capabilities to have a best-in-class experience for our clients. In the coming decades, over $70 trillion in wealth will be passed down in generations. We’ve also seen that two-thirds of children fire their parents’ wealth advisers. We are fully focused on making sure we provide value early and often to ensure we are advisers for the full family for generations to come.
What are your plans for Citi Private Bank North America for 2021?
We strive to be the best private bank for our clients. We always put our clients at the centre of everything we do. We will continue to gain client wallet share and be the private bank that clients and their families turn to for their global needs.