Back in 1994, John Reed was elected chief executive of Citicorp, shares of stock in India were traded in lots of one and Neeraj Sahai became a management associate charged with helping handle relations with large financial institutions in Mumbai.

Today, Sahai is based in New York, as global head of securities and fund services for the company, now called Citigroup. In its worldwide rivalry with State Street and Bank of New York Mellon, Citi's fund services operate in 60 markets that account for roughly 98% of the capitalization of public companies. And is rolling out securities services in two to three more markets every year.

The challenge now, by Sahai's account, is to marry "bespoke" service with large-scale technology that runs on common systems and processes, worldwide.

"In a way, our business is an institutional business on one side of the fence. And our clients tend to be large by nature. They are big sophisticated buyers of our services," he said in September at the SWIFT Internation Business Operations Seminar in Toronto.

"On the other hand, it is a high-volume technology, scale-driven business," the international fund services executive said. "So it is trying to marry an institutional boutique kind of business on one side with the scale activity on the other" that Citi hopes will set itself apart.

Sahai's been at the intersection of both improving technology and service to fund firms since he became head of transaction services for India and a senior country operations officer, nearly two decades ago.

Back then, the Indian government was in the early stages of trying to attract foreign capital. Markets were rudimentary. Outsourcing hadn't become part of the nation's lexicon or economic growth.

If you were a foreign investor, "you didn't expect the uniqueness of India to sort of impede the way you functioned," Sahai said.

Yet executing a stock transaction was not handled at all like it was in North America or Europe.

A stock might trade at 20 cents a share. And there weren't 100-share certificates. Only single-share certificates.

So, if your fund wanted to buy $100,000 worth of shares, that would mean 500,000 pieces of paper. One per share.

The solution: Imaging technology. Citi began taking snapshots of each certificate.

The paper-the shares-would be sent to the new owner, for settlement.

The images would then be cataloged and the information about each share "enriched" and passed along, in parallel, for reconciliation and rapid clearance.

Customers got both speed and more information than in the past. Then Sahai and his transactions team applied a precursor to outsourcing.

The Indian operation set up a "captive" company, called Citil, now known as Concept Information Technologies, to take on the day-to-day operations and flow of work. Citil subsequently was acquired by Tata Consulting Services.

"It fundamentally took workflow out of a banking environment into a manufacturing environment, and that made the big difference," Sahai said, "because manufacturing is a technology scale-driven business and banking traditionally has been a boutique client experience kind of business. So, one could marry the manufacturing capabilities and the manufacturing workflow with a banking customer service mindset."

That became a precursor to Citi's journey of the last 15 years to create a global operating environment.

The twin goals: Use technology to provide a foundation for serving institutional investors any way in the world; and, use the knowledge it gained in the process to act as a bridge between local capital markets, local regulators and the global investors that, ultimately, were its clients.

In Sahai's view, Citi could become a "knowledge intermediary," explaining differences between markets to its customers and helping make those markets more efficient.

Those differences could range from nuances in settlement cycles and practices, to different mechanisms for managing collateral, to how to handle different approaches to securities lending.

That could be as seemingly simple as explaining why the "depth of market'' in a given company's shares might not be what it seemed, because only 5% of its shares are floated while the company's market capitalization might be calculated as if all 100% were.

Or trying to help regulators in new markets figure out how to handle the shorting of securities, a necessary feature of securities lending.

So, in 1996, Sahai moved to New York to help set up Citi's securities services strategy.

That would entail setting up common systems, common language, common processes and common training approaches for clearance, settlement, fund accounting and administration. This would start off with stocks and bonds, and over time, expand to futures, options and other derivatives.

The idea was to try and establish a "social DNA" inside the company that would facilitate expansion of its services globally.

Not only would there be a common way of approaching each market, but there would be common measurement mechanisms, such as the percentage of transactions that could be processed straight through from initiation to settlement and the overall percentage of successful settlements, on the first go.

Rewards were tied to the success of the plan. Persons brought on board were trained to be and encouraged to move around the globe, to get the DNA.

Customers were surveyed for satisfaction; technology performance was measured by uptime versus downtime and other factors.

And, in the process, all local systems were replaced by a single securities custody servicing platform, known as SECORE, aka the Securities Core System.

That process was overseen by a network management team that included Managing Director Ranjit Chatterji, who heads up the function globally. The Global Network Management operation would help evaluate whether a particular market was big enough to justify installing Citi's own sub-custody and clearing systems, or whether the services should be contracted out to an agent. Sahai, for his part, has been involved in nearly half of Citi's five dozen rollouts.

Once a decision was made, a country could be up and running in 90 to 180 days. In the case of a South Africa, for instance, it might make sense to just create a new instance of the securities services database at facilities in Singapore and run its operations from there. After all, clients would be used Web-based windows to peer into the data and use it. It did not necessarily matter where the servers storing data or functions were located.

Yet, while the securities services business spends about $500 million a year on technology, success in a given market is not so much about deploying automated systems as it is "understanding the culture of a market," Sahai said.

Technology does matter. Since he left his homeland, India has leapfrogged, he contends, much of the rest of the world in creating an advanced infrastructure with a centralized securities depository and highly automated exchange operations.

But, relatively speaking, "It's easy to get the technology," Sahai contends. "It's more difficult to get the experience."

Back in 1994, John Reed was elected chief executive of Citicorp, shares of stock in India were traded in lots of one and Neeraj Sahai became a management associate charged with helping handle relations with large financial institutions in Mumbai.

Today, Sahai is based in New York, as global head of securities and fund services for the company, now called Citigroup. In its worldwide rivalry with State Street and Bank of New York Mellon, Citi's fund services operate in 60 markets that account for roughly 98% of the capitalization of public companies. And is rolling out securities services in two to three more markets every year.

The challenge now, by Sahai's account, is to marry "bespoke" service with large-scale technology that runs on common systems and processes, worldwide.

"In a way, our business is an institutional business on one side of the fence. And our clients tend to be large by nature. They are big sophisticated buyers of our services," he said in September at the SWIFT International Business Operations Seminar in Toronto.

Sahai's been at the intersection of both improving technology and service to fund firms since he became head of transaction services for India and a senior country operations officer, nearly two decades ago.

Back then, the Indian government was in the early stages of trying to attract foreign capital. Markets were rudimentary.

If you were a foreign investor, "you didn't expect the uniqueness of India to sort of impede the way you functioned," Sahai said.

A stock might trade at 20 cents a share. And there weren't 100-share certificates. Only single-share certificates.

So, if your fund wanted to buy $100,000 worth of shares, that would mean 500,000 pieces of paper. One per share.

The solution: Imaging technology. Citi began taking snapshots of each certificate.

The paper-the shares-would be sent to the new owner, as part of settlement.

The images would then be cataloged and the information about each share "enriched" and passed along, in parallel, for reconciliation and rapid clearance.

Customers got both speed and more information than in the past. Then Sahai and his transactions team applied a precursor to outsourcing.

The Indian operation set up a "captive" company, called Citil, now known as Concept Information Technologies, to take on the day-to-day operations and flow of work. Citil subsequently was acquired by Tata Consulting Services.

"It fundamentally took workflow out of a banking environment into a manufacturing environment, and that made the big difference," Sahai said, "because manufacturing is a technology scale-driven business and banking traditionally has been a boutique client experience kind of business. So, one could marry the manufacturing capabilities and the manufacturing workflow with a banking customer service mindset."

That became a precursor to Citi's journey to create a global operating environment.

The twin goals: Use technology to provide a foundation for serving institutional investors any way in the world; and, use the knowledge it gained in the process to act as a bridge between local capital markets, local regulators and the global investors that, ultimately, were its clients.

In Sahai's view, Citi could become a "knowledge intermediary," explaining differences between markets to customers and helping make markets more efficient.

Those differences could range from nuances in settlement cycles and practices, to different mechanisms for managing collateral, to how to handle different approaches to securities lending.

That could be as simple as explaining why the "depth of market'' in a given company's shares might not be what it seemed, because only 5% of its shares are floated while the company's market capitalization might be calculated as if all 100% were.

Or trying to help regulators in new markets figure out how to handle the shorting of securities, a necessary feature of securities lending.

So, in 1996, Sahai moved to New York to help set up Citi's securities services strategy.

That would entail setting up common systems, common language, common processes and common training approaches for clearance, settlement, fund accounting and administration. This would start off with stocks and bonds, and over time, expand to futures, options and other derivatives.

The idea was to try and establish a "social DNA" inside the company that would facilitate expansion of its services globally.

Not only would there be a common way of approaching each market, but there would be common measurement mechanisms, such as the percentage of transactions that could be processed straight through from initiation to settlement.

Rewards were tied to the success of the plan. Persons brought on board were trained to be and encouraged to move around the globe, to get the DNA.

Customers were surveyed for satisfaction; technology performance was measured by uptime versus downtime and other factors.

In the process, all local systems were replaced by a single securities custody servicing platform, known as SECORE, aka the Securities Core System.

That process was overseen by a network management team that included Managing Director Ranjit Chatterji, who heads up the function globally. The Global Network Management operation would help evaluate whether a particular market was big enough to justify installing Citi's own sub-custody and clearing systems, or whether the services should be contracted out to an agent. Sahai, for his part, has been involved in nearly half of Citi's five dozen rollouts.

Once a decision was made, a country could be up and running in 90 to 180 days. In the case of a South Africa, for instance, it might make sense to just create a new instance of the securities services database at facilities in Singapore and run its operations from there. After all, clients would be using Web-based windows to peer into the data and use it. It did not matter where the servers were located.

Yet, while the securities services business spends about $500 million a year on technology, success in a given market is not so much about deploying automated systems as it is "understanding the culture of a market," Sahai said.

Technology does matter. Since he left his homeland, India has leapfrogged, he contends, much of the rest of the world in creating an advanced infrastructure with a centralized securities depository and highly automated exchange operations.

But, relatively speaking, "it's easy to get the technology," Sahai contends. "It's more difficult to get the experience." MME

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