Citigroup CEO Says Few Issues Are More Pressing Than Wealth Gap

  • Corbat makes case for benefits of large banks amid debate
  • `Bankers are easy to pick on' in Washington, Corbat says

Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said income inequality is among the most important challenges facing the U.S., and that the bank is doing its part to help young people find jobs.

“We can’t be indifferent to the larger challenges facing our country, and there are few issues more pressing than the widening wealth gap,” Corbat said Wednesday in remarks to the Economic Club of Washington. “It’s simply unhealthy for any society to fracture this way.”

In one sign of that gulf, a report scheduled for release Wednesday found that the retirement savings accumulated by just 100 CEOs are equal to the entire retirement accounts of 116 million Americans, or 41 percent of U.S. families. The report, by the Center for Effective Government and Institute for Policy Studies, said the CEO funds are worth about $49.3 million per executive on average.

Corbat, who’s meeting with several members of Congress while in the nation’s capital, made his case for the value of large banks, which he said has been absent from the discussion of how to regulate them. The six largest U.S. banks employ 1.2 million people in the country, and every banking position creates another job, meaning the industry supports about 2 percent of the U.S. private-sector workforce, he said.

The CEO pointed to small-business lending, where the bank is on pace to lend $10 billion this year, and its philanthropic efforts as ways it’s helping the U.S. address economic issues, including widening inequality.

Criticizing Bankers

“In particular in this environment, bankers are easy to pick on,” he said. “It’s one of the few things here in Washington, as I described, that’s publicly bipartisan.”

That environment would make it “challenging” for Corbat to serve in government if asked, he said.

Citigroup, like many of its peers, has suffered from hefty legal charges in the last three years as it faced probes on a wide range of issues. The firm is being investigated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over its student-loan servicing practices and the Department of Justice continues to probe anti-money-laundering controls at the company’s Banamex USA unit, as well as its Mexico arm.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.