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Citigroup promotes Peter Babej to Asia-Pacific chief executive to head its most lucrative region outside North America

Chad Bray chadwick.bray@scmp.com

Citigroup has promoted Peter Babej, the head of its financial institutions group, to the position of chief executive for the Asia-Pacific region, the biggest overseas market outside its home base for the American bank.

Babej, who joined the bank as co-head of its financial institutions group in 2010 after serving in senior roles at Deutsche Bank and Lazard, will begin transitioning to the new role "immediately", according to an internal memo seen by the South China Morning Post. Babej, who was named sole head of the financial institutions business in 2017, will be based in Hong Kong.

"Under Peter's leadership, the [Financial Institutions Group] has participated in some of the most significant transactions in the sector, including several Asia-driven mergers and acquisitions," Citi chief executive Michael Corbat said in the memo. "He will draw on his deep knowledge of the financial services landscape in Asia, where we continue to see great opportunities, including fast-growing digital adoption, for which Citi is well-positioned given our footprint and capabilities."

The appointment comes six months after Francisco Aristeguieta stepped down in July as Citi's regional CEO to take a role as head of State Street Corporation's international business.

Image of Peter Babej, the new Asia-Pacifc chief executive of Citigroup. Photo: Handout alt=Image of Peter Babej, the new Asia-Pacifc chief executive of Citigroup. Photo: Handout

Tim Monger has been serving as interim CEO for Asia-Pacific at Citi and will return to his role as chief financial officer for the region, according to the memo.

In the third quarter, net income from continuing operations in its global consumer business in Asia rose 10 per cent to US$422 million. Profit from continuing operations in its institutional clients group business in Asia jumped 15 per cent to US$843 million in the quarter. The move to name Babej to head Citi's regional business comes at a challenging time in the region.

Mergers and acquisitions in Asia fell to US$599.6 billion in the first nine months of 2019, the slowest pace in five years, according to Dealogic.

The weaker merger activity comes as investors and businesses are increasingly concerned about a global economic slowdown and a trade war that has raged between the United States and China for more than a year.

Tensions have eased somewhat after US President Donald Trump said the world's two biggest economies had reached a "substantial phase-one deal" following two days of negotiations in Washington last week. As part of the agreement, the US would delay implementation of additional tariffs and Beijing agreed to buy more American agricultural products.

Private-equity firms, however, expect the trade war to continue to have the biggest effect over any other factor on deal flows in the Asia-Pacific region in the next 12 to 18 months, according to a new report by the law firm Dechert and financial data provider Mergermarket.

Citigroup realigned its corporate banking business in 2016 to take advantage of key corridors in Asia, where trade and capital have historically flowed. The bank said earlier this year that it was a banker to 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies operating in Belt and Road Initiative markets.

The bank also is proud of the growth of its digital consumer bank in Asia, saying it has seen digital engagement increase by 25 per cent in recent years in the region.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.