The Last Optimistic Big Bank CEO


With all this talk of economic meltdown, regulatory clampdown and revenue growth breakdown, it's difficult to remain positive - let alone optimistic. But one big bank CEO still appears relatively bullish.

And that man is Citi CEO Vikram Pandit.

Cynics will say, of course, that if you were standing in Pandit's shoes in 2008 / 09, you'd be far happier these days (and to some extent that's true), but that's to underestimate the tremendous job he has done over the last 4 years in righting the Citi ship.

Pandit is not in the midst of shedding tens of thousands of jobs (much of that pain has already been worked through), or having public spats with regulators and central bankers. He's no longer selling huge chunks of the business in a bid to raise more capital. No, quite the opposite. Pandit is currently busy investing in his company's future - in infrastructure, people and businesses.

In fact, The Wall Street Journal reports that Pandit said during an interview in the Raffles Hotel, Singapore, earlier this week that Citi was very much a 'strong capital-generation' story, predicting that by the end of the year 'we should start seeing operating leverage'.

Pandit also remains confident about Europe, telling Bloomberg TV: 'The Europeans will figure it out. They'll get through the debt crisis and get to the other side being fully committed to the euro and the euro zone'.

And on the US: 'The US may not grow as we would like it to grow, and unemployment may be a little higher than we all would like it to be, but I'm also very confident that we'll get through this (too)'.

That's not to say, however, that Pandit is throwing caution to the wind - he has already scaled backed the ambitious hiring plans over at the company's Institutional Securities unit, and bringing in talent across the board at Citi is mostly being restricted to strategic new hires. And analysts and investors are likely to get more color on Pandit's plans to peg back expenses as a whole when the firm reports its Q3 earnings next month.

But there's not the sense of panic at Citi now that there is at some of its rivals. 'Steady as she goes' appears to be the mantra. And, let's face it, at times like these it's good to have an optimist at the helm.

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