Wriston, Walter B.


Foreword by Walter B. Wriston for the book, Citibank: 1812-1970, by Harold van B. Cleveland and Thomas F. Huertas

Foreword by Walter B. Wriston for the book, Citibank: 1812-1970, by Harold van B. Cleveland and Thomas F. Huertas


History is the story of people, the organizations they create, and how those institution cope with the constantly changing challenges of society. All of America's institutions were newly minted in the aftermath of its revolution against the most powerful nation in the world. The founding fathers broke with the current economic dogma and turned away from the mercantilist system that was so pervasive in Europe, opting instead for a market-oriented economy. Such an open economy requires financial institutions that can grow and adapt to the requirements of a dynamic country.

Citibank became one of those financial institutions. Indeed, Citibank is one of the few private institutions that have survived since 1812, through wars and panics, through good times and bad, while steadily building and maintaining a position of leadership at home and abroad. Located in what has turned out to be the financial center of our country, Citibank has been involved in one way or another, in one degree or another, with almost all of the major events in our country's history. And, in a larger sense, it is accurate to say that very few significant events occurring in the world do not have an impact on some of the bank's customers and therefore on its business. Like all institutions that flourish over time, the bank was and is driven by its customers' needs. These requirements are never static. New technologies, ranging from the steam engine to the microchip, produce new businesses and destroy others. As industries rise and fall, many new companies arise, prosper, and then decline as their products become obsolete or they fail to adapt to changing markets and value systems. Of the hundred largest companies in 1900, many that were leaders in that year no longer exist today. In the financial services business, of the original fifty-two banks that founded the New York Clearing House Association in 1853, twenty-two had disappeared entirely by 1910.

Not only are Citibank's customers changing, but so are the needs of each generation of customers. Governments at home and abroad continually alter the ways in which they finance their nations' development. Many countries, our own included, have changed from international debtors to international creditors and back again. That cycle will be repeated in the future. Old colonial empires have disintegrated, and new countries have appeared at such an astonishing rate that there are now almost two hundred nations in various stages of development; each has its own culture and its own financial requirements. New and varying methods of capital finance appear almost daily as old instruments are found to be no longer equal to the task. As economic development proceeds, consumers constitute a growing and more demanding sector of many economies around the world.

The revolution caused by the convergence of computers with telecommunications has moved the global marketplace from yesterday's rhetoric to today's reality. The effect of this revolution on the world of trade and finance is profound, and its consequences are still unfolding. We know that it will continue to call forth new responses to opportunities that are still hidden in the future.

Walter B. Wriston

April 1985

  • This document was created from the Foreword written by Walter B. Wriston for the book "Citibank: 1812-1970" by Harold van B. Cleveland and Thomas F. Huertas in 1985. The original foreword is located in MS134.003.026.00020.
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