Farhan Faruqui remembers the weekend of the Citigroup bailout well. He was late for dinner.
It was 7.30pm on November 21 2008, a Friday, and Faruqui was in his office when the phone rang.
It was his wife, wanting to know where he was, as they had friends due to arrive for dinner any minute.
“I didn’t want to leave the office,” said Faruqui, who was running Citigroup’s corporate and commercial bank for Asia Pacific at the time. “There were a few of us there and we were all in the same position. I remember looking back as I was leaving. We just didn’t know if we would be coming back on Monday – but we did.”
The height of the crisis was an uncertain and emotional time for bankers in Asia, many of whom found themselves in a similar position to Faruqui on more than one weekend during the year. The decisions that would determine their future were going on thousands of miles away, in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or New York.
Citigroup, which has the biggest Asian operation of any US bank, had been tightening its belt for well over a year in response to the slowing US mortgage market, but was still losing money. After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September, the worsening crisis pounded its market value down to US$20.5bn, down from US$270bn two years earlier, and left the US government with little choice but to intervene.
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