Inclusivity, Openness and a Meritocracy


Marianna Sárközy

In a first, exclusive interview with the Budapest Business Journal, Citi’s Kevin A. Murray reflects on a strong year for the bank in Hungary, being shortlisted for the Expat CEO of the Year title, and combating the labor crisis.

Kevin A. Murray (left) receiving his BBJ Expat CEO  runners’ up certificate from editor-in-chief Robin Marshall.

While 2018 was a good year for Citi in Hungary, the status of the business here as a branch of Citibank Europe Plc., based in Dublin, makes it difficult to report exact figures. If that is a frustration for a business journalist, it is equally so for Murray, a self-confessed “numbers man”, who is both country head for Hungary and CEO of what the bank calls its CE5 Cluster: Hungary, plus Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia.

“Year-on-year growth was good, but I think from our foundation in Hungary in 1985, we have managed to develop the business every year, that is what is really important,” Murray explains, speaking in his Bank Center office, overlooking Parliament.

“This year, we saw significant growth in our ecommercial and global subsidiaries businesses, with double-digit growth in both. Treasury and Trade Solutions – cash management, in particular – saw stellar growth. In CE5, and in Hungary to a lesser extent, we saw growth in this sector for the fifth consecutive year. The one area where we underperformed was in Markets, but we saw that everywhere; this is more a global phenomenon rather than a Hungarian issue. That will right itself this year, hopefully.”

Citi has something of a reputation for being a champion of digitalization, and Murray says that will only grow.

“In 2017, B2B trade globally was about USD 21 trillion. E-commerce is responsible for around 35% of that. Any bank, any business, has to be involved in that world. Whatever line of business you are in, you are going to be seeing more and more of this. You have to be ready for it, not just reacting to it.”

And how does Hungary compare? “There is growing awareness here. The Minister for Innovation and Technology [László Palkovics] sees a lot of areas where it needs to be embraced. You have innovative companies that are doing a lot. We are seeing FinTech companies developing here, several of which we are working with, and e-commerce is becoming more wide spread.”

Citi will do all it can to help aid that spread, Murray says. “One of our mantras here is ‘How can we best serve our clients?’, and sharing our digital experiences is one of the ways we use ‘thought leadership’ to help keep our clients – regulators, industrials, financial institutions and SMEs – up-to-date with what is happening in the global market.”

Brand Awareness Helps

Citi launched its service center in Hungary with 55 people; today it has more than 2,000. And just like everyone else, the bank has to deal with what is now a regional labor crisis. Murray does not deny the challenges, but is upbeat about overcoming the problem. A lot is done around helping mothers return to work, for example, but brand awareness is also a huge help, he says.

“People know Citi: if they are looking, there is a good chance they will want to talk to us. We offer mobility of career; in Hungary, if that is what you want, or outside Hungary if that interests you. All jobs are open to anyone to apply, and we consider all applicants. That helps build trust, and explains why so many people build long-term careers here. Our core values are appreciated: inclusivity and openness. Above all, we are a meritocracy: you know you will have a good hearing, you will be taken seriously. And the mobility side also works in our favor. If we have a critical position I am struggling to fill in Hungary, I can call on Citi’s global resources to help fill it. Certainly, there is no shortage of people putting their hands up.”

Interestingly, he also argues that shared service centers in Hungary are transitioning away from one-size fits all models towards something more nuanced.  

“I think you are going to see more specialization. Rather than offering all the roles in one center, people are going to start focusing on what functions they do best, perhaps technology or innovation, and where they can find the people they need to do that. That will also make it easier to create value added roles […] and it will also help with recruitment.”

Something else that helps with recruitment is appealing to Millennials’ wider interests. Murray explains that corporate and social responsibility has long been part of Citi’s commitment to give back to its communities, and this promotion of strong corporate values is appealing to many younger employees.

Citi runs a Global Community Day across the business (it will be on June 1 in Hungary this year), which in 2018 saw more than 430 people here provide food and toys in partnership with the Hungarian Food Bank for those less fortunate.  

Openness and Diversity

“We worked with Rehab Critical Mass [which calls attention to the importance of an accessible society]; we were one of the largest corporate groups at the Health Bridge [where Chain Bridge is lit pink for breast cancer awareness]; we were the largest group of marchers at Budapest Pride; we are on the board of WeAreOpen [a Hungarian organization that promote openness and diversity].”

The bank also gets involved with education in Hungary. Its Junior Achievement program has, thus far, given 2,000 students entrepreneurial skills. The Citi Foundation has given a grant focusing on financial education and entrepreneurial skills to United Way.  

“And that CSR goes all the way into higher education. We have had a relationship for more than ten years with Corvinus University: I am on the advisory board; our Citi Finance team teaches corporate and investment banking skills. At Óbuda Technical University we teach cyber education; we run a course in Budapest Business School from which, in 2017, 86% of the people who attended graduated.”  

These actions help educate and prepare young people for the workforce, while also giving Citi access to students, as well as the ability to drive the curriculum, which will in turn help with future recruitment.  

“Without that sort of input, we can only ride the wave and hope it takes us somewhere good. We believe that our ability to help shape the curriculum drives better outcomes for everyone.”

Given such a multi-layered level of engagement, it is not surprising Murray was shortlisted for the BBJ Expat CEO of the Year title. He insists it is a case of building on the success of others.  

“It is recognition of three decades of work since Citi first came to Hungary in 1985. It is recognition of the work done by all those who have been part of our franchise and served our clients over the years. We were the first non-government financial institution to do local currency clearing. We helped develop the financial industry in Hungary, and the country itself, but Citi also gained a lot out of that relationship. For me, personally, it is much the same. I benefit from being part of such a talented team. To have been one of five CEOs shortlisted is incredible recognition, and I am very proud, especially for the 2,400 people working for Citi in Hungary today.”

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