Citibank shaken by new top departure

Collins joins Adams at ABN; Citibank appoints six City firms to project finance panel; Dentons wins place

Citibank’s in-house legal department is undergoing a major shake-up as its highly-respected senior counsel John Collins quits to join Dutch rival ABN Amro.

His move comes only months after former colleague and head of legal Laurie Adams also left for ABN.

Collins resigned last Friday and is expected to join ABN by Easter. He declines to comment other than to confirm his departure and to add that he will be working with Adams at ABN. However, he refuses to say in what capacity.

News of his departure also coincides with the appointment of six City firms to Citibank’s project finance panel ahead of the general overhaul of all the company’s panels.

Denton Wilde Sapte and the City office of US firm Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy are understood to have been appointed, although both firms refuse to discuss the panel.

The appointment of Denton Wilde Sapte to the project finance panel is something of a coup for the firm.

Although it has handled project finance work for Citibank in the past, the departure of banking partner James Johnson last year to Clifford Chance from Wilde Sapte could have been a blow to the newly-merged firm.Johnson is particularly close to the bank; the main reason he joined Clifford Chance a year ago was because of the firm’s longstanding relationship. Citigroup is one of the magic circle’s highest-billing clients and was believed to be responsible for more than £10m worth of fees alone in the financial year ending 1999.

Collins is understood to be particularly close to Johnson; both lawyers worked together at Wilde Sapte.

The decision to overhaul the Citibank panels was taken last year when Adams, who had been with the bank for over a decade, was still head of legal.

The merger of Citigroup-owned Salomon Smith Barney with Schroders was the main reason for the shake-up.

Firms were contacted and told that a restructuring process was taking place. They were invited to tender and it is believed that some have already appeared in beauty parades.

But Adams’ departure last September meant the shake-up was put on hold. Bradley Gans, who headed Citibank’s legal team for corporate and investment banking, was brought in from New York to replace him (The Lawyer, 13 November).

A senior source at Citibank says that the movement in personnel means the restructuring has been put on hold for the time being, although it is still very much on the agenda.

The overhaul, though, is expected to include some radical changes. One suggestion from a lawyer close to the bank is that it will no longer ask for a discount from panel members for third-party work.

A host of other City players have relationships with Citibank. Allen & Overy is thought to accrue a substantial amount of fees from the group, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer also has a relationship with the bank, but has been suspended from representing it while the firm acts in litigation against the bank over the collapse of a company in Singapore (The Lawyer, 6 December 1999).

Slaughter and May had a close relationship with Schroders and Norton Rose has also acted for the group in the past.

Citibank was unavailable for comment.