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Former Citicorp chairman Walter Wriston dies

Walter B. Wriston, the former Citicorp chairman whose innovative leadership saw the development of automated teller machines, the explosive growth of credit card lending and the expansion of bank branches worldwide, has died at 85.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Walter B. Wriston, the former Citicorp chairman whose innovative leadership saw the development of automated teller machines, the explosive growth of credit card lending and the expansion of bank branches worldwide, has died at 85.

Wriston died Wednesday at a Manhattan hospital from pancreatic cancer, a Citigroup spokeswoman said Thursday.

Under Wriston’s reign, Citicorp developed the certificate of deposit and the modern bank holding company and expanded the company’s presence in consumer banking.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June by President Bush, who said he “saw the trends of the future, and started a few of his own — first among them, electronic banking.”

Wriston was elected president of Citicorp in 1967 and served as chairman from 1970 until he retired in 1984. Wriston also served as chairman of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board.

The company, now known as Citigroup Inc., has since become the world’s largest bank.

During his tenure, Citicorp experienced dramatic growth, with its assets increasing to $150.6 billion and loan growth reaching $102.7 billion.

Wriston pushed to deregulate the banking industry, working to move it from an old-fashioned business of saving accounts and commercial loans to a broad-based enterprise that would involve a variety of financial services.

“He was incredibly innovative,” Richard Herring, professor of financial services at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, said in a 1992 interview with The Associated Press. “He had the clarity of vision to understand what technology was doing to financial services.”

Many in the industry criticized Wriston for keeping Citicorp’s capital levels low, but Wriston argued a bank’s profits were far more important to its protection against loan losses.

In his book, “The Twilight of Sovereignty,” Wriston explored the economic and political consequences of the information revolution.

“A truly global economy, as opposed to the multinational economy of the recent past, will require concessions of national power ... that seemed impossible a few years ago and which even now we can but partly imagine,” Wriston wrote.

Wriston, born in Connecticut, was raised in Appleton, Wis. His father, Henry M. Wriston, was a former president of Brown University.

He graduated from Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. After four years in the Army during World War II, Wriston spent a year in the State Department before landing a low-level job in the controller’s division of First National City Bank, Citicorp’s predecessor.