Citibank Canada's President Quietly Builds a Strong Institution

Article excerpt

TORONTO -- As head of the largest foreign-owned bank in Canada, Charles Young, president of Citibank Canada, has managed to build a strong Canadian presence while staying mindful of the need to keep a fairly low profile in Canadian banking circles.

Not all of the leading Canadian banks applauded the passage of the 1980 Bank Act, which permitted the chartering of foreign-owned Canadian banks. Indded, some senior bankers with clout were quite outspoken against such an initiative during the lengthy debate prior to passage of the act.

But the urbane, Connecticut-born Mr. Young, now 44, has managed to smooth feathers. A career Citibank man, Mr. Young arrived in Canada in 1978 -- during the height of the foreign bank debate -- to head what was then a finance company subsidiary of Citibank. Since then, in his own quiet but effective way, he has successfully managed to promote the foreign bank cause.

Mr. Young joined Citibank 20 years ago armed with a bachelor's degree in history from Yale University and a master's degree in international affairs from the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. And he came to Canada from a posting in France. Besides French, he speaks Spanish and a little Chinese -- testimony to an international banking career that has taken him as far afield as Colombia and Taiwan.

"Canada is certainly the easiest international posting posting that I have operated in so far," Mr. Young says. It is certainly easier to do business in English, he says, and in an environment that works as smoothy as Canada does. He cautions, however, that the market place is very competitive -- "every inch of market share gained takes much effort, and margins on corporate business are generally lower than in the U.S."

And the Canadian-owned banks are prepared to defend their market vigorously. Indeed, Mr. Young has always maintained that the Canadian banks need not fear the foreign banking presence because the indigenous banks are tough and highly capable competitors with great depth and expertise. 10 Offices in Canada

Canada is clearly important to a U.S. bank because of the extensive economic ties between the two countries. But, he says, it is easy to be misled by apparent similarities between the two nations.

"There are differences -- Canada tends to be lower-key, but that does not mean that getting the business is any easier," he says.

Now that the foreign banks are established (there are 58 chartered foreign-owned banks in Canada), Mr. Young can at last afford to wave the Citibank flag more aggressively. And he is doing just that from 10 offices across the country.

Citibank Canada is headquartered here, along with most of the foreign contingent. But Mr. Young's bank is the first of the foreign-owned banks to have a downtown Toronto office tower identified with it. It is a major tenant in a gleaming new development that prominently displays Citi's logo atop a building looking out over Lake Ontario.

With assets of $2 billion (U.S.), Citibank Canada is among the most profitable of the foreign-owned banks and is at least double the size of Chemical Bank of Canada, the next in size ranking. But Citibank Canada is still clearly small potatoes when compared with the five major Canadian full-service banks, of which the Royal Bank of Canada, with assets of $66 billion (U. …