updated 9/24/2009 12:24:38 PM ET 2009-09-24T16:24:38

Citigroup Inc. appears to be shifting its strategy in its U.S. retail banking business, focusing on its strongest markets rather than trying to expand across the country.

Citi, one of the largest recipients of government aid, is concentrating its efforts on improving its operations and customer service in six major markets, a person familiar with the company's plans said Thursday. The person requested anonymity because details of the plan have not been made public.

The six markets include cities where the company already has a strong foothold: New York, Washington, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

A report in The Wall Street Journal Thursday said Citi could "abandon or scale back" in areas where it has a smaller presence, such as Boston, Philadelphia and Texas. Citi is looking to sell its 120 branches in Texas, according to the Journal.

"No decisions have been made about markets and branch locations," the person said about whether Citi will leave or cut back in certain markets.

But Citi's strategy to focus on core markets would be a change from a year ago. As the banking sector crumbled following the collapse of giants such as Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual, Citi tried unsuccessfully to acquire Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp. in an attempt to expand its retail banking footprint and expand its deposit base.

Citigroup, which wouldn't confirm what The Associated Press or the Journal reported, said it isn't backing away from retail banking. In a statement, Citi said: "Customers, not products, are driving Citi's strategy for North America consumer banking, and we understand we have a great deal to do to improve the overall customer experience. We're on a very significant journey to make it simpler, more rewarding, and highly transparent to bank with us."

Other banks also moved to strengthen their retail positions. Wells Fargo & Co. beat out Citigroup to acquire Wachovia, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. added Washington Mutual's retail operations after the Seattle-based bank failed.

The new strategy comes after Citi has received strong financial support from the U.S. government and large foreign investors, such as sovereign wealth funds, to provide it with enough reserves to protect against future losses.

Citi has been among the hardest hit banks by the recession and mounting loan defaults. It has received $45 billion in government bailout money and guarantees to protect it against losses on more than $300 billion in risky investments.

The government recently exchanged a portion of the bailout money for a 34 percent stake in the bank.

Shares of Citigroup were unchanged at $4.51 in morning trading Thursday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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