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2012 Top International Operations Executives

The More Things Change, The More They Stand Out
 |  DIANA CHAN: Shaking Things Up, In European Clearing |  CHRIS REMONDI: Increasing Information, Reducing Risk |  NEERAJ SAHAI: Marrying Large-Scale Technology With Boutique Service |  KEVIN MILNE: Making an Exchange Succeed By Working With Rivals |  THOMAS ZEEB: Gold Standard in Securities Processing |  CHRISTOPHER JAYNES: Cutting Out the Custodian Bank |  PATRICK COLLE: Going Global, But Not Everywhere |  TONY FREEMAN: Targeting Two-Day Settlement

NEERAJ SAHAI: Marrying Large-Scale Technology With Boutique Service

December 14, 2011
By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld

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 percent of the capitalization of public companies. And is rolling out securities services in two to three more markets every year. 

Neeraj Sahai, Global head, Securities and Fund Services, Citigroup


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,’’ said Sahai.

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 then would 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.