Citigroup said to appoint female CEO to lead Saudi return

Citigroup is looking to rebuild its Saudi business more than 10 years after losing a key banking license in the kingdom

Citigroup named Carmen Haddad to rebuild its Saudi Arabian business. Image: Twitter/INJAZ Al-Arab

Citigroup named Carmen Haddad to rebuild its Saudi Arabian business. Image: Twitter/INJAZ Al-Arab

Citigroup named Carmen Haddad to rebuild its Saudi Arabian business more than 10 years after losing a key banking license in the kingdom, according to people familiar with the matter.

Haddad is leading Citigroup’s strategy and business development for the kingdom, where the New York-based bank doesn't have a local presence, said the people, asking not to be identified because the appointment hasn't been made public. She’s also set to become the lender’s chief executive officer in Saudi Arabia once it gets a banking license from the market regulator, the people said.

Citigroup is in advanced discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Capital Market Authority for an investment-banking license to operate in the country, people said last month. The firm lost a key banking license when it sold its stake in Samba Financial Group in 2004.

Saudi Arabia is becoming more attractive to foreign lenders as it takes steps to overhaul its economy, including plans for what could be the largest ever initial public offering with the sale of shares in Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

Haddad will continue in her role as CEO of Citigroup's Qatar operations until a replacement is found, the people said. She’ll also stay in her position as a senior private banker in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, Egypt and the Levant, the people said.

Women executives

Haddad is among a small but growing group of women in prominent corporate positions in Saudi Arabia, which remains the only country to prohibit females from driving cars. In February, Samba Financial Group appointed Rania Mahmoud Nashar as CEO, days after NCB Capital Co. CEO Sarah Al Suhaimi was named the first woman to chair Saudi Arabia stock exchange Tadawul, the region’s largest.

If the Saudi regulator approves Citigroup’s application it would seal the U.S. bank’s return after it secured lead roles on the kingdom’s record-breaking $17.5 billion bond sale last year and $9 billion Islamic bond this month. Without the license, banks face restrictions on working on deals that are signed in Saudi Arabia or takeovers in which the target company is based there.

Citigroup set up a companywide task force with senior bankers to target business opportunities in Saudi Arabia, people said in September. The lender also has started sounding out potential staff in expectation that its license application will succeed, people said last month. Ahmed Bozai, Citigroup’s chief operating officer for the Middle East and Africa, and Haddad are among executives in talks with regulators, the people said.

Haddad joined Citi Private Bank in the Middle East in 2000, and was previously in the private client services division of what was Merrill Lynch. She also worked as a financial consultant to Middle East and North Africa institutional and private clients at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The bank failed in attempts to return to Saudi Arabia in 2006 and 2010, despite lobbying by longtime shareholder Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud. Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat met Prince Alwaleed in Riyadh in March to discuss the bank’s future plans.

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