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Peter Moses: the face of Citibank for 40 years

Business Leader: Executive Steward Nominee #4

Friday, November 10, 2017

Business Leader: Executive Steward Nominee #4

Today the Jamaica Observer publishes the fourth of 12 stories on the nominees for this year's Business Leader Award being held under the theme “Business Leader: Executive Steward”. The nominees are among the top CEOs in Jamaica.

 

 

The Business Observer newspaper and its companion Business Leader Award programme were creatures of the 1990s Jamaica.

The laissez-faire period gave birth to the country's most frenzied financial sector growth on record and our publication had a front-row seat to witness the ever-changing developments and deliver them to the doorsteps of our readers.

As I flipped through pages of old publications I found myself immersed in the immortalised slices from our financial past and one institution stood out.

Citibank was the country's touchstone for corporate deal-making.

From its perch on Knutsford Boulevard in Kingston, the institution was the husbandry for the young talents who populated the city's expanding collection of merchant, commercial and near-banks, finance houses, brokerages, and advisory outfits.

As head of Citibank's Jamaican operation, Peter Moses personified the organisation like none of his peers across the industry. He was the singular public face of the brand; over time their names became synonymous.

Moses was not just a standout in banking. He became a transcendental corporate personality who was regularly leaned upon by governments of all political stripes to bring calm to the business climate, to lead advisory committees and to lend his credible voice in support of avowed public policy missions.

Whatever the mix of factors that made Moses such an influential executive, it certainly helped that he had an enduring presence at the bank — from 1974 to March 2017 — with most of this period as Citi Country Officer, the unique nomenclature that the institution uses for the head of its branches across the 100 jurisdictions where it operates.

To be clear, this institution, even at its peak as a retail bank, was never among the heavyweights within the sector — as measured by asset size, branch network or any of the other conventional matrices of ranking. But size is a matter of perspective, and Citi wielded influence, had national impact, and undertook deals that far outstripped its bulk.

What Citibank Jamaica had was a deep-pocketed parent and access to a global portfolio of financial experts who were constantly on the prowl for big deals.

An early display of this spectacular financial prowess came at the dawn of the Edward Seaga Administration of the 1980s.

The defining challenge of the period was the country's chronic and destabilising foreign currency shortage. That problem was about to take a turn for the worse with Jamaica facing an imminently maturing US$100-million debt.

There was a collective sigh of relief when Citibank came to the rescue.

“(It gave) Jamaica the breathing room it needed at that time,” notes Moses. “I was a part of the team that worked with our international office to put the transaction together and then to present it to a meeting of all the then holders of Jamaica's international bank debt.”

That deal marked the beginning of a long-term symbiotic partnership between this institution and successive governments in Jamaica — a relationship that continues to this very day.

“The significance of Citibank's support for Jamaica became very evident to me at the time of the debt crisis in the decade of the eighties,” says Moses. “There was little or no international support for Jamaica at a time when the country needed to refinance its maturing debt. Citibank represented Jamaica in a number of subsequent international fund-raising transactions which I was involved in, especially with regard to negotiating the terms with the government of the day.”

The transaction that would be uppermost on the minds of most Jamaicans today and in which Moses took an important leadership position was the debt exchange programmes during the Bruce Golding Administration and for which Finance Minister Audley Shaw was the poster child.

What is little known is that this project was conceptualised and executed by Citibank and taken to the Jamaican Government. The template for it already existed in other jurisdictions where Citi operates and was tweaked and burnished for the Jamaican situation.

Moses helped the Government with the herculean task of convincing investors to accept lower returns than what was originally promised them on the certificates they were holding, and to agree to a lengthening of the tenure.

“There was very little belief that this transaction could be done,” Moses lets on. “I worked on the ground seeking to convince large holders of government debt that it was in everybody's interest to make this happen. Partnering with our US counterparts in Citibank the transaction was immensely successful, delivering a participation rate of just over 99 per cent. This led to a second debt exchange, which was equally successful.”

Another transformational deal that had Moses's handprints all over it was the early repayment of debt owed to Venezuela, in exchange for what he characterises as “an attractive discount that saved the country a significant amount of money”.

Once Citibank introduced the idea to then Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, he, like his predecessor Shaw, fully embraced it and got then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to throw the weight of her entire Administration behind it.

“The deal was conceptualised, developed and executed by Citibank,” Moses stresses. “It was important for the Government to be upfront in selling it.”

Citibank initially entered the financial sector space with the intention of building out a retail network to compete with the other players and had in fact set out on this path.

Moses says that business model did not work.

“All we were doing was trying to recover money, selling cars, selling cows, that sort of thing,” he recalls. “We weren't really doing any banking. You could see that if we didn't start to do business, proper banking, the bank would close.”

Though he was just a junior manager, Moses was drafted on the three-man committee at a weekend retreat which was tasked with reviewing the bank's business model and developing a viable path for the operation.

“That's when we decided to become a niche bank,” he recalls. “The commercial banks — NCB and Scotiabank — dominated the market at the time, with 80 per cent of the market share, so we decided to switch to corporate banking.”

The plan was met with initial scepticism at the regional level of the global organisation, but Moses says the locals prevailed and ultimately put in place “one of the most successful transitions that became a case study for other businesses”.

In retrospect, Moses has no doubt that the decision was the right one, pointing out that the model pioneered by Jamaica became a template for other operations across the Citibank network.

“Without any doubt it was the right decision as the bank's profitability moved from strength to strength each passing year, ultimately making our franchise the number one in our region and in the top three for many years to come,” says Moses. “Much has been made of our success within Citibank, resulting in our model becoming an example for other countries.”

With its singular focus on corporate banking this institution became the training ground and launch pad for careers that have become household names in Jamaica.

The current governor of the Bank of Jamaica Brian Wynter is a product of Citibank and made a compelling case within the corporate world for that job because of the value that business leaders placed on his Citibank experience.

Christopher Dehring and Peter Bunting, two of the three founders (along with Mark Golding) of the merchant bank Dehring, Bunting & Golding, were products of Citibank. So was Michael McMorris, who later partnered with others to form his own merchant bank — Knutsford Capital. Andrew Cocking, who later teamed up with Ryland Campbell to form Capital and Credit Merchant Bank, as well as Dennis Cohen, the deputy managing director of NCB, all got their start at Citibank.

“I think they were attracted to Citibank because of the focus on corporate banking that had emerged and the creativity of many of the transactions that the bank had built a reputation around,” says Moses. “In addition, the training programme was excellent, creating exposure to many First World experiences that created the opportunity for intellectual transfer to the local marketplace. Essentially, having Citibank on your resume was seen as a major plus for future career opportunities.”

As the Citi Country Officer Moses had full responsibility for the affairs of the bank's operations in Jamaica, including, he says, franchise risk as well as efficiency and profitability targets. The position reports to a regional office which, in turn, reports to a global office. The local bank has approval limits assigned based on the size of transactions being done and expenses being incurred.

“As most of the transactions done by Citibank Jamaica were large, these had to be recommended by the country in association with external partners who worked with the country to develop solutions for our large corporate clients and the Government,” notes Moses. “After a period of review through the external approval process, the majority of our proposals were approved and with no fallout from any during the years of my stewardship.”

Peter Moses's name recognition outside the confines of the financial industry and within the broad public space came in part through some of his very consequential public service engagements.

The most memorable dates back to the 1990s in the wake of the infamous islandwide riot, as the public responded with anger to a hike in the tax on petrol announced by then Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies in his budget presentation. Davies's boss and prime minister, PJ Patterson, hurriedly cobbled together what came to be known as a Gas Price Review Committee headed by Moses. The group was charged with finding alternative revenue sources to the gas price hike.

At first it appeared a fool's errand, but Moses and his committee achieved the improbable and were lauded for restoring calm to a population that was already buffeted by high inflation and a seemingly unstoppable slippage in the value of the local currency.

There were other spheres in which Moses made substantial contributions.

As president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica he found himself in the role of peacemaker, brokering a meeting between Seaga and Patterson which, he says, “involved touring the besieged Tivoli Gardens as a condition prior to the meeting taking place”.

His stewardship as head of the Jamaica Bankers' Association coincided with the period of the meltdown in the financial sector in the mid- to late-1990s. This development placed him around the negotiating table with affected parties. In this capacity he was also actively involved in trying to find solutions to the instability in the foreign exchange market that was a feature of life in Jamaica. He also chaired the Oversight Committee for Public Sector Reform and was a member of the committee for the review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Moses retired from Citibank in March after 43 years at the institution. He was later named chairman of First Global Bank.

Here is how he sums up the basis for his success: “My willingness to embrace change, a belief in identifying and developing talent and giving people the tools and support to succeed. Delivering success on a consistent basis thereby defying the odds in terms of what Citibank Jamaica delivered in such a challenged economic environment.”

Moses Jackson is the founder of the Business Leader Award programme and chairman of the Award Selection Committee. He may be reached at moseshbsjackson@yahoo.com

Freelance journalist Nazma Muller contributed to this story.