Frances A. Sevilla-Sacasa's wealthy clients expect certain results in an increasingly uncertain world. As president of Latin America and Europe for Citigroup Private Bank, she leads a worldwide team that manages the assets of 25,000 of the world's richest families. "The new 'normal' state of investing is constant volatility, which requires a much greater attention to global events than ever before," she says.
Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa holds an MBA from the prestigious American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird), and in November 2003 she received a distinguished alumni award for her contributions to the field of banking and finance. Prior to joining Citigroup, she was managing director of Deutsche Bank's Latin American Private Banking Division and later became president of
Bankers Trust International Private Banking Corp.
When she signed on at Citigroup's Miami office, she was initially in charge of the southeast region of the U.S., then she took over Latin America, and in April 2003 she received a promotion that places her in charge of both Latin America and Europe. The promotion makes Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa one of the highest-ranking Hispanic women in Citigroup.
"The Citigroup Private Bank has achieved record earnings in each of the past three years with an average annual growth rate of 19 percent. Despite the challenges on the social, political and economic fronts in Latin America, Frances and her team delivered strong results. This has been a key ingredient in the Private Bank's success," says Peter K. Scaturro, CEO of Citigroup Private Bank. "We are confident that by expanding Frances' responsibilities to include Europe, we will better be able to leverage the strengths of Citigroup in this important region. She has proven leadership skills and extensive knowledge of investments in Europe and globally."
She says that cultural sensitivity and vigilant communication with her clients and her employees are key elements of her success. "My team understands they are my number one resource, and we work toward the same goals," she says. "There are various singular aspects to our industry. The first is the uniqueness of our clients. Each family is different, with their own unique needs and objectives. I think that caring, listening, acting with integrity and keeping an open mind works for me in both my personal and professional life. I've found that these four traits serve me well to get the most out of being a mother, a wife, and a leader in my chosen career," she says. "I believe in having a clear vision of what I want to accomplish, hiring the best people I can find, providing them with the tools they need and then empowering them to act."
Citigroup Private Bank operates 126 offices in 37 countries, and the total value of assets under management in 2003 was $33 billion, an increase of $2 billion over 2002. Net income of $551 million in 2003 was up $88 million, a 19 percent increase, from 2002.
Although private bank clients have enough wealth to ride out minor financial bumps, the war in Iraq and economic crises in Latin America have forced private bankers to get more creative about how they manage risk and preserve wealth over the long term. Citigroup was one of the first to offer seminars on "brat proofing" and "the intersection of love and money" and advice on how to structure philanthropic portfolios. They also offer assistance with the management of art collections, sometimes providing loans that use high-dollar art pieces as collateral.
Comparing the two regions she now manages, Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa says, "The European market has a highly developed and competitive banking environment, which along with its different regulatory regimes, requires a different approach than that of Latin America. Add to this fact that there are multiple tiers of development within countries in the European market, making Europe a much more complex business environment than Latin America."
In recent years when other private banking units such as Barclays and ABN Amro were dramatically scaling back or pulling out of Latin America entirely, Citigroup dug in and adapted to the changing climate – not surprising, given the bank's presence in the region dating back to 1914.
Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa shares her company's commitment to Latin America. "We have worked very hard and have been fortunate to have had strong growth in our business in the last several years despite the difficulties experienced in the region. However, I believe there is substantial room to increase the business we do with our existing clients, making sure we know them better than any of our competitors."
Heritage has helped Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa as a private banker, where personal relationships determine success. "Given that one of the continents that I manage for the Citigroup Private Bank is Latin America, it gives me the sensitivity to understand the differences in cultures within countries of the same region. Our clients perceive me as someone who understands their background, who listens to them and who works hard at meeting their needs. It is extremely important to show respect by acknowledging the differences in our cultures and addressing them properly through the services we provide," she says.
Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa is particularly well-suited to excel in the international marketplace: She's fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. But despite her intercontinental responsibilities, she still finds time to have a home life. "I work hard at balancing my roles in life as a leader, wife, and mother to my three children," she says. She also works in the community by serving on the board of the Miami City Ballet and getting involved in several charitable organizations. "I inherited a very strong sense of community from my mother, and I have always been a firm believer that everyone has a responsibility to give something back to their community," says Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent.
Monsignor Jude O'Doherty, of the Church of the Epiphany in Miami, has known Ms. Sevilla-Sacasa for more than 20 years and describes her as "A lady in every sense of the word, in her manner and deportment. Even though she has a high-profile job, she's very unassuming, just a lovely person." He also has high praise for the way she and her husband, Eugenio, balance their work and family lives: "If I could find the recipe they are following, I would give it to everyone," he says. In addition to attending church regularly when she's not traveling for work, she has served as the head of the Epiphany School's advisory board, he says.
What advice does she offer for up-and-coming Hispanic executives? "I hate to sound like a mother, but a proper education and a strong work ethic are key to improving the chances for anyone's success. An education does not stop after college," she says. "Surround yourself with people who share in your vision and enthusiasm. Mentor another Hispanic with the potential to succeed if given the right opportunity."
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