Reto Faber

Citi’s head of the direct custody and clearing (DCC) business in EMEA, Reto Faber, has been with the organisation for 30 years and has overseen a remarkable growth story in the region in his most recent role at the bank.
Inducted: 2021

“When I first came over, the European franchise was almost an afterthought for Citi’s DCC [direct custody and clearing] business. We were very much an emerging markets franchise with practically market ownership in LATAM and the very much and very fast-growing franchise in Asia. Europe was kind of there, but not really a focus area,” Reto Faber told Global Custodian. 

After 30 years with Citi and a decade leading the bank’s DCC business in EMEA, Faber can safely say the region is certainly no longer an afterthought for the organisation. Now the jewel in the crown for Citi’s DCC franchise, Faber has been at the centre of its remarkable expansion over the past 10 years. His story is one which begins in Vienna and lands in London, with some significant time in the US in the middle. 

“I have to say it was quite an interesting ride, bumpy at times, but certainly not a year without its very own challenges,” recollects Faber. 

Growing up in Austria, in Vienna, Faber completed his schooling and university there before heading to the US for a graduate degree at Yale. Citi marked his second job after graduating with a MA in International Relations and after some roles across the bank he interviewed for a job in securities services in 1995 for the position which would one day evolve to role he now holds. 

“I was a complete novice. I had, quite frankly, no idea. I knew that there’s a difference between a bond and a share, but that was sort of the extent of it. I spent three years in New York in that franchise and got involved in the Euro conversion project. That’s what ultimately brought me to London in the latter half of 1998, for – and you know how these things work – for a three-year stint, which I’m still in.” 

After cementing himself in London and the European custody space, Faber moved from product manager to business management, and then client management, before finally running the client executive and sales team across EMEA. Now in the role of head of the DCC business in EMEA, Faber has made his mark on both the Citi business and the industry as a whole, navigating various crises, and being integral in large scale initiatives such as acquisitions and the implementation of T2S – the latter which he depicts as a standout moment during his career. But few achievements can rival the overall expansion of Citi’s EMEA business under his guidance. 

“I think the key factors were that the business always had a tremendous amount of commitment and support from senior management all the way across the organisation,” explains Faber. “We, from the beginning, were able to invest in the growth on an ongoing basis. Since I took over, we opened somewhere between 10 and 12 new markets in the region, which allowed us to expand into sort of the white spots on the EMEA. We built a Middle East presence, a very comprehensive Eastern European presence, our Scandinavian presence and the last one there was Finland. We just opened that a year ago and now we are in the middle of an acquisition of the Nordea business again, to help us evidently pulse that presence.  

“Maybe the remaining spotty part of the EMEA region is Africa, where we have a footprint but not as comprehensive as elsewhere. But I think we always had the corporate support and the support of the management line to continue a carefully crafted investment program, that’s very important.” 

Faber sees multiple highlights in his career outside of just the noteworthy growth in the region. He speaks with pride about the bank’s ability to deal with crisis management situations, whether that was the influx of regulation post-financial crisis, events such as COVID-19, liquidity problems and political crises across the EMEA region.  

“That’s when we come together the best. That’s when Citi shows itself at its best. While in many of these things there are dark moments and glitches, by large, I feel we’ve done a fantastic job with just about any one of these challenges.” 

It’s not just the adversities that stand out though. Faber talks highly of Citi’s work across infrastructure projects like T2S, the Euro conversation and the more recent technological advancements. He also emphasises the importance of hiring and retaining the best talent and having some of the best expertise in the field. 

Thirty years is a long time with one organisation and Faber certainly has a grasp on what has changed at Citi over that time period, along with industry change and why various trends have occurred. He points out how what started as a “small club”  – referring to the securities services community – has now become a highly professional industry, one that is very tightly regulated and truly global. 

“I think in that transition, people are still evidently a very important factor and always will be, but the importance of process, policy, regulation, compliance and so forth, are now becoming the leading drivers, that’s defined the way that purchase decisions are made. So that’s been, I think, a truly fundamental change, and will only continue in that direction,” he highlights. 

“We were a very manual industry…[and now] technology has really taken over. I remember my first travels around the world when we had back-offices with hundreds of people and big stacks of paper and things were driven around town and things like that. That’s all gone. 

“While there’s still a lot of manual processes, by and large, the core aspect of the industry has moved from manual to automated. Again, the European regulatory regimes have really transformed Europe into a unique region. We don’t have that anywhere else in the world, that the multitude of countries is coming together more and more closely in terms of process, in terms of structure, in terms of the harmonisation. There’s still a long way to go, mind you, but I think it’s a unique change and it changes the way franchises managed the region and it changed the way clients are buying the product across the board.” 

Faber is one of the most recognisable and respected figures in the EMEA custody space and has his finger on the pulse for a wide range of subject matters in the securities services world. While he could talk all day about trends in the securities services industry, we were keen to know what a good day “at the office” would be, at a time when being physically present in the office was not an option. Reiterating the importance of the people, support and teamwork, Faber gives an insight into what has mattered most during his illustrious career. 

“I would still say the lockdown period worked very well and I actually spent practically the entire time in my home in Vienna, so that personally had some advantages from this. But a good day in the office is still in the office, because people again are ultimately a very important part of what we do and how we work and a very important part to make things enjoyable,” he explains. 

“So, a good interaction with my people. Seeing the team work and ‘hum’, so to speak. Working on a good challenge. Those are all the kinds of things, the kinds of ingredients, that make a good day. I occasionally want to see a success like a big win or something, of course, but that’s not going to happen every day. But being in the team, working on positive, constructive opportunities, that really is what makes a good day.”