Citi Hires Former B of A Mortgage Chief Barbara Desoer

Citigroup has hired Barbara Desoer, the former head of mortgages for Bank of America and one of the industry’s most prominent women, to help run its retail bank.

Desoer will become chief operating officer of Citibank NA on Oct. 15, according to an internal memo. She will report to bank chief executive Gene McQuade and will “oversee the governance of the bank legal vehicle,” McQuade said in the memo.

Her hire brings a well-respected woman executive into the male-dominated executive team of Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, who was abruptly promoted to replace Vikram Pandit a year ago.

Corbat has focused on cutting Citi’s staff and size and pulling back some of its sprawling international operations. But he has faced criticism for the lack of gender diversity among his leadership team, which stands out even by the banking industry’s skewed standards. Citigroup’s 23-person operating committee has only two women as executives: mortgage chief Jane Fraser and U.S. consumer and commercial banking head Cece Stewart.

Now Desoer will “deepen the management bench both of [Citibank] and of Citi,” McQuade said in the memo.

Her new role is also a comeback for Desoer, who spent 35 years at Bank of America and was once in the running to become its CEO. In 2011, American Banker Magazine named her ninth on its annual list of the Most Powerful Women in Banking.

She spent the last few years of her tenure at the Charlotte bank wrestling with its metastasizing mortgage problems, including the soured loans and mounting putback requests Bank of America acquired with its ill-fated 2008 purchase of mortgage giant Countrywide. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan gradually reduced Desoer’s duties in 2011, effectively demoting her through a series of management reshuffles, and she retired in February 2012.

She has several fans in the industry, including her former and future colleague Deborah McWhinney. The chief operating officer of Citigroup’s global enterprise payments unit worked with Desoer at Bank of America, and in an email said Desoer is “one of the smartest professionals I have worked with, she is an inspirational leader, and, even in challenging times always worked to find the best outcomes for all parties.”

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