After more than 100 years as a niche player in Japan banking, U.S.-based Citigroup said on Monday it will ramp up its presence in the world's second-largest economy by expanding beyond Tokyo and leveraging ties with recently acquired Nikko Cordial Corp.

The world's largest financial firm has relaunched its Japanese unit as a local bank, and it said it plans to double the number of its retail branches and triple its corporate client base in the next several years.

Citigroup is hoping the unit, Citibank Japan Ltd., will be able to tap into the mass affluent market: individuals looking for investment products such as mutual funds and cross-asset portfolios, but not wealthy enough for the boutique services offered to clients with ultra-high net worth.

We are interested obviously in customers who are transitioning from being savers to investors, Sunil Kaul, the unit's newly appointed president, said at a news conference.

Total Japanese household financial assets amount to about $13 trillion, with much of that sitting in low-yield savings accounts. Banks, brokers and asset managers have been eager to draw those funds into investments.

To capture more customers, Citibank will double its number of retail branches, to about 60, during the next several years. Five new branches are scheduled to open by August.

In what may be a symbol of the bank's desire to go local, all five new branches are situated outside its traditional base of Tokyo.

The first of those was opened on Monday in Saitama City, a workaday Tokyo suburb often derided as one of the most unfashionable addresses in Japan.

Although Citibank first opened its doors here in 1902, its presence has remained thin outside of central Tokyo. Most branches remain in upscale areas popular with foreign residents.

Citibank had previously operated as the Japanese arm of a U.S. company, but last month it became the first foreign bank to receive a license to operate as a local entity, making it easier to open branches in Japan.


Citibank also plans to triple its corporate client base in the next several year by strengthening areas such as structured finance.

It also said it would be able to leverage ties to Nikko Cordial, Japan's third-largest brokerage, which Citigroup acquired in April through a $7.7 billion buyout.

The bank said it was still mulling a listing in Tokyo, but it stopped short of giving specific details.

What we're studying is listing Citigroup, the parent corporation, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Douglas Peterson, Citibank Japan's chairman and non-executive director, said.

Japanese media have speculated that Citigroup will list its depositary receipts here, or that it will launch an initial public offering for Citibank Japan.

Peterson, Citigroup's top representative in Japan, declined to rule out an IPO.

Citigroup is studying all the alternatives for listings, or placements, but no final decisions have been made and we don't have definitive plans, he said.


Although Citibank has a long history in Japan, its reputation was tarnished three years ago when regulators forced it to close it private banking operation because of a series of rules violations.

The Financial Services Agency ordered the closure after discovering problems including inadequate checks against money laundering.

Last year, the regulator reprimanded the bank over a computer system failure that caused it botch about 275,000 customer transactions.

The FSA ordered it to tighten management oversight after the bank failed to properly credit customers for withdrawals and deposits made in early May last year.