Wriston, Walter B(igelow) 1919-2005

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WRISTON, Walter B(igelow) 1919-2005

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born August 3, 1919, in Middletown, CT; died of pancreatic cancer January 19, 2005, in New York, NY. Banker and author. The former chair and chief executive officer of Citicorp, Wriston was considered a highly innovative executive whose ideas, such as the automatic teller machines, or ATM, as well as a significant expansion of financial services, led American banks to become the modern financial institutions they are today. Originally majoring in chemistry, he later studied history at Wesleyan University, where he earned a B.A. in 1941. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines, leaving the military as a second lieutenant. Traveling to New York City to find work, he took a job at what was then First National City as an inspector in the controller's division. Wriston considered this only a temporary job in a field he had no interest in, but he soon discovered he had a gift for banking. His skills caught the attention of his superiors, and by 1954 he was vice president; by 1968 he was president. From 1970 until 1984, he led what had become Citibank and its holding company, Citicorp (now Citigroup). Many have credited Wriston's leadership as the reason for Citibank's success as one of the biggest banks in the world. Unlike other banking executives, Wriston was not so much concerned about increasing the assets of Citibank as he was in increasing profits. This philosophy led him to new paths for innovation. He was the first, for example, to set up a system of ATMs so that customers had access to services around the clock; he created the holding company Citicorp to provide services his bank was restricted from practicing by the federal government; he established a policy where small customers would earn the same interest rates on their investments as large corporate customers; he added divisions in areas such as insurance, real estate, and brokerage services; established the certificate of deposit as a form of long-term investment; and he greatly enhanced the use of technology to better serve both his bank and his customers. By the time he retired, Wriston had utterly transformed the institution of banking in America. Although sometimes criticized by consumer watchdogs such as Ralph Nader, who claimed that he did not pay his employees enough and was not always honest with customers—charges Wriston thoroughly denied—he was generally admired throughout the financial world. Not only did his colleagues agree he was an intelligent leader, but he was also progressive in his policies toward his staff. For example, he actively hired women and minorities into important positions of responsibility at his bank. After retiring, he served on a variety of corporate boards, often favoring technology companies, which fascinated him. Wriston was the author of Risk and Other Four-Letter Words (1986) and The Twilight of Sovereignty: How the Information Revolution Is Transforming Our World (1992).



Chicago Tribune, January 22, 2005, section 2, p. 10.

Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2005, p. B8.

New York Times, January 21, 2005, p. A26.

Times (London, England), January 25, 2005, p. 57.

Washington Post, January 21, 2005, p. B6.