Since federal regulators issued a consent order to Citigroup (C 2.48%) relating to the company's internal controls, investors have been wondering how long it will take and how much money will be needed to remediate the issues. While there have been few details since the order became public in October, Citigroup's CFO Mark Mason provided perhaps the best update so far at the Goldman Sachs 2020 U.S. Financial Services Conference.
Mason said the multi-year strategy to address the consent order will likely result in the company's expenses being up a "couple percent" in 2021. Total operating expenses for Citigroup in 2020 are slated to come in around $76.5 billion.
"We very much view this as a transformation," Mason said at the conference. "It's more than just remediating issues that have been identified. It's really about how we are interested in improving the operations across the franchise."
Regulators in their consent order fined the bank $400 million for its failure to sufficiently improve long-standing internal controls related to compliance, data, and risk management. The fine and consent order came after Citigroup accidentally wired $900 million to several lenders of the cosmetics brand Revlon. The bank, which is still trying to get that money back, would eventually attribute the blunder to a "clerical error" and "out-of-date" software.
While the order has likely added a new focus to the issues at the bank, Citigroup's management team had been making some efforts to correct the internal control issues prior to the order. Mason has previously said that the bank spent about $1 billion related to the issues in 2020 on the heels of spending in 2019 as well. He added that he views correcting the regulatory issues as a step that will drive other strategic initiatives.
"It improves the way we think about compliance. It includes all those things including the digitization of a lot of our operations, so it is a transformation. It is an investment ... As an investment we do expect a payback on it," he said.