Citigroup may shrink to just Citi

Losing the familiar red umbrella contemplated in rebranding

January 16, 2007|By New York Times News Service

Citigroup, the global banking giant, is shrinking - but only its name. Executives are prepared to rebrand the company Citi and to fold up its familiar red umbrella, instead using a logo with a stylized arc above the name.

The new name and look, which follows a 14-month review of the bank's brand, will be presented to the Citigroup board this week, according to several executives close to the process. No final decision has been made, and it could still undergo minor changes.

"We continue to work on our branding effort and will announce our decisions when it is completed," said Leah Johnson, a spokeswoman for the company.

If adopted, the revised Citi brand and logo will be used at nearly all the vast financial services company's businesses, including retail branches and its investment bank concentrated in the New York area, and showcased around the world.

Citigroup's presence in the Baltimore area includes the headquarters of its CitiFinancial consumer lending operation and the former Legg Mason brokerage operations acquired last year.

The design is similar to the Citi logo that now appears on much of its consumer advertising, office buildings and credit cards. A rollout could begin as early as next month.

The plan to unify Citigroup's businesses under a new, single brand is part of an ambitious campaign by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles O. Prince III to better integrate the bank's sprawling parts after years of acquisitions - a strategy investors are still waiting to see pay off.

Symbolically, it also marks the end of an era. Just as a new name became one of the signatures of a transformative deal by the former chairman, Sanford I. Weill, a more coherent brand strategy signals Prince's plans to shift the focus of a company sometimes seen as a deal machine to one largely powered by domestic and international growth.

The brand makeover comes out of the playbook of other big companies. Apple Computer, for example, shortened its name last week to Apple Inc. to emphasize its broader ambitions for other technologies, like the new iPhone, and Federal Express is now known as just FedEx.

By shedding the suffix "group" as well as the red umbrella, Prince is severing the bank's most tangible ties to Weill, Citigroup's patriarch, who made the old Travelers Group logo a key term of that company's landmark 1998 merger with Citicorp and who is rarely seen without a small umbrella pin affixed to his lapel.

Over two decades under Weill, Commercial Credit, then based in Baltimore, turned into the Travelers Group, which morphed into Citigroup. Many of its operating businesses such as the retail operations, Citibank, and the brokerage arm, Smith Barney, adopted their own looks and retained their old names.

Over the past few years, Citigroup's consumer businesses took on the Citi prefix to become CitiFinancial or CitiMortgage without an overarching plan or a formal approval process.

The result, in the eyes of some, was a mishmash of logos and titles that appeared disconnected, and many Wall Street clients, Main Street customers and even Citigroup employees, simply referred to the different parts of the conglomerate as Citi.

Now Prince hopes to unify the company under one global name at a time he is urging more cooperation between the businesses. He also hopes to achieve some small cost savings on media spending, which amounted to $623 million in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Most of the operating businesses are expected to adopt the Citi prefix, but each will use a different color arc to maintain a distinct look. Citi's corporate and investment bank will feature a black arc; its wealth management division will use a red arc, and its consumer businesses a blue arc. Smith Barney is expected to retain its name.

Since October 2005, a panel of senior Citigroup business leaders and marketing executives has been evaluating the brand's future.

By late fall, when Citigroup announced that it would call the New York Mets' new stadium CitiField, there was a growing consensus in favor of the new look.

In the end, Citigroup's brand committee decided to drop the 137-year-old symbol, which has adorned the bank's pitch books, buildings and business cards - as well as some executive attire.

Citigroup said marketing research suggested that the umbrella had no resonance for U.S. bank customers, especially since the Travelers insurance businesses had been spun off.

Outside the country, one executive said, the symbol is associated with insurance as well as with bad luck in certain Asian countries.

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