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How a Citigroup unit in New York turned into a hotbed of drugs, sexual harassment

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Bankers from Citigroup Inc. were partying with clients one night in May 2018 at a downtown Manhattan hot spot called Catch.

Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the Citigroup office(Reuters)
Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the Citigroup office(Reuters)

One of them, a recent college grad, had landed in the equities division for her two-year rotational program at the bank and had brought her roommate along to the party. As the evening progressed, one of the unit’s bosses came up behind the roommate and surprised her by grinding his crotch against her, according to two people who said they saw him. 

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Months later, that rotator said, a male trader told her to wear shorter skirts and higher heels to work and made multiple inquiries into her love life.

Interviews with 22 people who worked in or closely with the equities division suggest the incidents weren’t an aberration, painting a picture of persistent harassment and discrimination at Citigroup’s equities unit in New York, which advises on and executes trades for top hedge funds and other Wall Street players.

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The accounts echo allegations in a lawsuit filed last year by a managing director who claims such conduct continued until as recently as 2022. After the lawsuit hit, the firm encouraged staff to speak up if they observe misconduct.

Over at least a decade, employees openly ogled female colleagues, rated them by their looks and bragged about their sexual conquests, according to the interviews with the workers, who asked for anonymity because of concerns about retaliation.

Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the office, they said. Complaints to senior executives and human resources didn’t lead to change, fueling the perception of an insulated in-crowd and prompting several employees to leave while some alleged perpetrators remain, the people said.

Citigroup, which three years ago made history by appointing Jane Fraser as the first female CEO of a major US bank, has led rivals on many measures of a more equitable culture. Yet the behaviour within the stock-trading unit stood out even in an industry that has struggled for decades to rein in conduct that makes women feel unwelcome.

ALSO READ: ‘Deliver the change or get off the train’: Citgroup CEO’s stern message to employees

A spokesperson for Citigroup, Mark Costiglio, said no one should be discriminated against or harassed at work. “Our efforts to foster an inclusive and equitable workplace culture never stop, and ensuring that our standards are well understood and complied with by everyone at Citi is a continuous, proactive process,” he said. 

“We provide colleagues with a number of avenues to raise concerns in confidence, and when substantiated we will take appropriate action, up to and including termination of employment. While we will not comment on individual internal matters, simply put, where warranted, we exit employees who fail to meet our high standards of respectful treatment.”

Known for its fixed-income prowess, Citigroup has long ranked last among the big five Wall Street banks in equities trading revenue. Despite efforts to change that, it’s fallen further behind JPMorgan Chase & Co., which generates about $5 billion more in revenue from the business, a gap that was roughly $3 billion in 2019.

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The biggest investment banks typically have a little more than 1,000 front-office employees in their equities trading divisions, according to consultancy Coalition Greenwich. Citigroup doesn’t disclose its team’s size, but that would make its group a small, though lucrative, part of its 240,000-person global operations.

The equities division’s leadership was rejiggered five times in about 12 years, a period that saw the unit grapple with repeated bouts of misbehaviour.

One female derivatives trader recalled sitting at a client dinner at Locanda Verde near the bank’s headquarters in 2010 when a colleague reached under the table and put his hand on her leg. Around that time, she said, a research analyst asked her why she didn’t wear sexier shoes.

She told HR and senior managers about both, describing an ugly culture that she saw as pervasive, and remembers one female executive encouraging her to brush it off. 

Years later, the conversation stands out as disheartening. One colleague remembered the trader speaking about harassment at the time, and another recalled hearing about the exchange with the executive.

ALSO READ: ‘Fired from job for harassment complaint’

“Although several of the alleged incidents would clearly violate Citi’s code of conduct, we have not identified a complaint being filed for several of them, others are more than a decade old, and some contain allegations that are either baseless, too vague, or involve people who have left the firm,” said Costiglio.

Two other women said they stayed quiet about being sexually harassed by colleagues out of fear of retaliation in an industry that prizes discretion and loyalty. 

Six people there besides the derivatives trader said that they complained about what they saw as workplace misconduct to senior colleagues or human resources and were disappointed with the outcome, feeling the bank didn’t take sufficient action.

Three said they described separate incidents to Dan Keegan, who ran Citigroup’s trading business across North America. According to one of them, Keegan was told that senior staffers egged on a junior banker to show the underwear of a woman he’d apparently slept with; Keegan, who left Citigroup in 2022, didn’t respond to messages. Five people saw the incident or heard about it at the time. The young banker was fired.

“The person involved in that incident was terminated as a result of an investigation and the direct manager who failed to escalate the matter was disciplined,” Costiglio said.

Before a new class of young colleagues joined around 2018, bankers prepared for their arrival by circulating a dossier that included their photos. Employees judged their attractiveness and openly discussed favourites, according to one person who saw it and two others who heard of it at the time. A similar account was included in last November’s lawsuit from Ardith Lindsey, the managing director.

In 2020, as the division continued to deal with under-performance, Fater Belbachir was brought in as equities chief. Yet problems persisted. After a hot streak in 2021, a London staffer’s fat-finger trade sparked a flash crash in European stocks, a blow for Fraser and Belbachir, who still runs the unit. Lindsey’s lawsuit alleged that he ignored women and was among a group of male managers that bonded by discussing sexual conquests.

Employee alleges manager coerced her into a relationship

“The reference to Mr. Belbachir is based on an unsubstantiated claim in a lawsuit that Citi is strongly contesting,” Costiglio said.

One of those male managers was Mani Singh, an executive who coerced Lindsey into a relationship and threatened her and her children, Lindsey said in her lawsuit.

“When questioned several years ago about a large financial transaction between them, Ms. Lindsey described Mr. Singh as only a friend,” Costiglio said, adding that she later told the bank that the relationship was consensual. It couldn’t have been, according to Lindsey’s attorney, because of the difference in power between the two.

After Lindsey formally complained, Costiglio added, “we immediately placed Mr. Singh on leave and began an investigation. Mr. Singh resigned within days, before the investigation could be completed.” Singh didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Lindsey’s complaint depicted an environment where men talked about which women they wanted to sleep with, treating them as “sexual objects.” In interviews with Bloomberg News after her lawsuit was filed, five women who’ve worked in the division described similar experiences of men ogling them as they walked the trading floor as recently as 2019. 

Three said they were also upset by Singh’s behaviour toward them: One junior employee, for example, said he would drop his credit card in front of her to request she fetch him food.

One bleak episode contributed to the sense that the division protected an in-crowd. When a top trader pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated with a child in his car, Citigroup asked regulators not to disqualify him, industry records show. The bank did not remove the trader, who still works there, from top accounts, including the billionaire Steve Cohen’s hedge fund, five colleagues said.

Bankers consumed cocaine at firm’s HQ, claim witnesses

On Wall Street, bankers and traders have long used drugs, but their prevalence in this group stood out to employees who’ve worked at other firms. Bankers did cocaine at the company’s Manhattan headquarters and with colleagues and clients outside it, according to three people who saw it themselves. 

One member of the team said she was at her desk on the trading floor around 2016 when she saw a coworker with white residue between his nose and lip. She suggested he wipe it off.

Citigroup tells deal makers to rein in on drinking at client events

The bank has recently taken steps to crack down on bad behaviour. Last month, Citigroup told its investment bank’s dealmakers to rein in their drinking at client events, reminding them to keep the firm’s reputation in mind after complaints of unruliness. And a senior dealmaker in its equity capital markets group was put on leave this year amid an investigation into a verbal altercation with a junior banker.

Fraser, meanwhile, is in the midst of the bank’s biggest overhaul in decades. She’s trying to shrink the lender after it became one of Wall Street’s most bloated institutions, with missed financial goals and a stock price that trails peers.

The rotator who went to Catch and was told to shorten her skirts recalled going to Salima Habib, a move that three others said they heard about at the time.

The rotator recalls Habib saying she’d have to tell a manager and also offering advice: going directly to HR was another option, but it would be arduous, or the younger woman could try confronting the man directly.

“The comments attributed to Ms. Habib by unnamed sources have been mischaracterized and are not consistent with her record of supporting and empowering women throughout her career,” the spokesperson said.

The rotator also remembers Habib, who was recently promoted to run sales in the US for the division, offering her one more recommendation: Try to meditate.



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Nikhil Kamath alerts investors on ‘hand-picked stocks’ WhatsApp scam: ‘Use common sense’

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Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath informed investors that he has never had any WhatsApp group where he shares “hand-picked” stocks as advertised by a group. The group claims to assist people in picking the right stocks and Nikhil Kamath said that “this is obviously not from me” as he urged people to use a little “common sense”.

Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath alerted investors about a scam on Whatsapp.
Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath alerted investors about a scam on Whatsapp.

“Scam alert, this is obviously not from me, I have never had or have any WhatsApp groups, nor do I give tips etc. Please report these… Also to all the brands who reach out, I don’t do paid promotions/collaborations/ads/paid speaking engagements of any kind. Please stop spamming, and everyone use a little common sense please,” he said along with an image of the fake advertisement.

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What did the scam advertisement claim?

The scam advertisement showed that the WhatsApp group had details of stocks handpicked by Nikhil Kamath that would rise in April. The ad asked investors to join the WhatsApp group which would share their picks of reliable stocks every day as it said, “First 1,000 members get it for free.”

See Nikhil Kamath’s post here:

Earlier Nikhil Kamath advised fellow entrepreneurs in India to not open franchises of global brands in India but try to take Indian brands to the world.

He said, “To all my entrepreneur buddies, the future may be to take Indian brands global, not franchise global brands in India. The Indian narrative is getting cool globally, we have mystique, royalty, history, artisan, handmade, exotic, and so much more to sell.”

He added, “What was yesterday a garment manufactured in India called John, Peter and Louis something and marketed by western models, could be tom Subko, Hatti Kaapi, 11.11 etc sold in New York with the faces of Indian artisans who spent hours on each product individually.”



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RBI ban on Bank of Baroda World app: Finance ministry’s likely plan on frauds

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Union finance ministry may propose stricter measures to protect citizens from cyber fraud, it was reported. This comes after an increase in incidents of frauds, including the Bank of Baroda World app scam, the Times of India reported citing sources who “mentioned a recent inter-ministerial meeting focused on bolstering cybersecurity and tackling financial fraud”, it noted.

A security official walks past an emblem of the Reserve Bank of India at the RBI headquarters, in Mumbai.
A security official walks past an emblem of the Reserve Bank of India at the RBI headquarters, in Mumbai.

What was RBI’s action on Bank of Baroda World app?

In October 2023, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) stopped Bank of Baroda from onboarding new customers on its mobile app ‘BoB World’ citing material supervisory concerns. The bank said in response that it had already carried out corrective measures to address the concerns.

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“The Reserve Bank of India has, in exercise of its power, under Section 35A of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, directed Bank of Baroda to suspend, with immediate effect, any further onboarding of their customers onto the ‘bob World’ mobile application,” RBI said in a statement.

“Any further onboarding of customers of the bank on the ‘bob World’ application will be subject to rectification of the deficiencies observed and strengthening of the related processes by the bank to the satisfaction of RBI,” it added.

What report said on steps Finance Ministry could take?

The report claimed that Finance ministry could be in support of stricter Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures and due diligence by banks and financial institutions while onboarding new merchants. This applies to Business Correspondents (BCs) as they may be more vulnerable to security breaches, as per the report.

Additionally, the ministry’s proposal also stresses on the need for improved data security and data protection practices at the merchant and Business Correspondents level. The report claimed that the RBI may ask banks to review concentration of Business Correspondents in areas with a high incidence of cyber fraud.



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Sakuma Exports shares to trade ex-rights today: Check price, allotment, ratio here

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Sakuma Exports rights issue 2024: The rights issue of Sakuma Exports Ltd will open on April 25 and will close on May 13. The rights issue record date is April 15 and the company will offer 78,984,298 equity shares at a price 25.3 per share. The issue size is 199.83 crores while the entitlement ratio is 33:98 which means 33 rights share for every 98 fully-paid equity shares held on the record date.

Sakuma Exports rights issue 2024: The rights issue record date is April 15 and the company will offer 78,984,298 equity shares at a price <span class=
Sakuma Exports rights issue 2024: The rights issue record date is April 15 and the company will offer 78,984,298 equity shares at a price 25.3 per share.

Sakuma Exports: What is rights issue?

In the rights issue, a company grants existing shareholders the right to buy new shares at a discount to the current trading price. The issue gives existing shareholders securities called rights while companies give shareholders a chance to increase their exposure to the stock at a discount price.

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Sakuma Exports: What to expect?

The Board of Directors of the company declared rights issue of equity shares for the eligible shareholders and said in a stock exchange filing that “the issue of 7,89,84,298 equity shares of face value of Re. 1 each (Equity Shares) to Eligible Equity Shareholders aggregating up to Rs. 19983.03 lakhs in accordance with applicable laws, including the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2018, as amended (SEBI ICDR Regulations).”

“The Board of Directors, in accordance with Regulations 30 and Regulation 42 of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligation and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015, as amended and Regulation 68 of the SEBI ICDR Regulations, at its meeting held today ie., April 8, 2024, has considered and approved April 15, 2024 as the record date for the purpose of determining the Eligible Equity Shareholders who are eligible to apply for the Rights Equity Shares, in the Issue (Record Date),” it added.



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