Wriston, Walter Bigelow

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Wriston, Walter Bigelow

Walter Bigelow Wriston, 1919–2005, American banker, b. Middletown, Conn., grad. Wesleyan (B.A., 1941); Fletcher School, Tufts Univ. (M.A., 1942). Widely considered the most important and influential American banker of his generation, he revolutionized what had been a stodgily conservative industry with a raft of technical and other innovations including computerization, diversification, and globalization. Wriston began (1946) his career in New York City as a junior inspector in the controller's department of what is now Citicorp. He rose quickly, becoming (1960) executive vice president of what had then become First National City Bank. Seven years later he became president of the bank, at that time New York's largest.

In 1968 he initiated a business reorganization that resulted in a structure of five separate companies under the umbrella of a holding company (renamed Citicorp in 1974). Exploiting this arrangement, the company was able to offer various services not ordinarily permitted to banks, e.g., insurance, stock brokerage, leasing, real estate services, and much more. In 1970 Wriston became chairman of the bank, which six years later was rechristened Citibank. Among the many innovations he introduced were the automated teller machine (ATM), negotiable certificates of deposit, and interstate banking. He also led Citicorp to the domination of the credit card business and was key in transforming modern banks into large one-stop all-service businesses. During his stewardship Citicorp grew enormously in assets, loans, and net income. Wriston retired in 1984. He was the author of Risk and Other Four-Letter Words (1986) and In the Twilight of Sovereignty (1992).

See P. L. Zweig, Wriston: Walter Wriston, Citibank and the Rise and Fall of American Financial Supremacy (1995).

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