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The Buffalo Citi Service Center in Getzville is no suburban call center; it’s a sophisticated financial hub connected to Citi’s operations around the globe.

While New York City-based Citi is a global financial behemoth, the company lacks the visibility in the Buffalo Niagara region without a branch network. But Citi has built local awareness through partnerships with area colleges and universities, and attracts new hires with jobs in a variety of segments of the company, all within one complex in CrossPoint Business Park.

The center has grown to about 1,300 employees and plans to finish filling 175 positions this year.

Its success also highlights a developing regional strength in financial services built on a deep talent pool and relatively low costs. Home to two major regional banks – M&T and First Niagara – the area also boasts significant operations for HSBC, KeyBank and Geico, to name a few. According to the state Labor Department, about 32,500 people work in the financial services industry in the Buffalo Niagara region.

The Citi center has used the dependable, productive workforce and advanced technology that allows complex work to be performed outside of traditional “hub” cities, said Nassir Salim, the Getzville center’s site president.

“We are a global organization,” Salim said. “If you look around, we don’t have branches here that customers come into. So we’re in a global business supporting various type of activities in 160 countries around the globe.”

Salim reflects Citi’s global reach. The Pakistan native became the Getzville site head in 2010, after working for Citi in other roles in Pakistan and Texas.

The Getzville center he oversees consists of multiple business activities in its two buildings.

“Given the diversity of the departments and the levels, if you choose to remain local to Buffalo, you could move from an entry-level to a director position and not have to leave,” Salim said.

David Bartlett’s career path fits Salim’s description. The Buffalo native was hired by Citi for an entry-level position 12 years ago. He now manages a group as the director of Citi’s YieldBook – which focuses on bond analysis – in its Institutional Clients Group.

“This site is unique even within Citi to a certain perspective, because we have so many different organizations that have a footprint here,” Bartlett said. “It’s not just one group within Citi that found it to be useful as an operations center.”

Starting small

The modern, 265,000-square-foot complex near the I-990 grew from modest local roots. In 1976, the company opened a 10-employee check-clearing office for Citi checks and money orders on Union Road in Cheektowaga. It was established here because of a Federal Reserve check-clearing operation in Buffalo.

In 1980, Citi moved the operation to Ridge Lea Road in the Amherst Commerce Park, and added transaction services, such as clearing services for Citi travelers checks and Visa traveler’s checks. As of about seven years ago, the local site had grown to 475 employees.

Citi took a big step in 2006 when it moved into a new $18.5 million building in CrossPoint; a second building, valued at $32 million, soon followed. The buildings were developed by Uniland and are leased to Citi. The projects also received incentives from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, and Empire State Development in 2007 announced a $1.75 million grant for Citi. The buildings have also generated new revenues for municipalities through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

Carl Montante Jr., Uniland’s vice president of marketing and strategic initiatives, said Citi’s selection of CrossPoint for its complex was based largely on the availability of high-tech infrastructure and space to expand. And the site’s proximity to UB’s North Campus has proven a good fit for its education partnership with the school, he said.

Among the Citi businesses with operations at the Amherst site are treasury and trade solutions, global capital markets and finance, all within Citi’s Institutional Clients Group. About $2 trillion in electronic U.S. dollar transfers pass through the site daily, along with multi-currency payments and foreign exchange.

The diversity of business lines at the site means employees might move from one department to another as they change jobs.

“As people are building their careers here, they are moving across the organization and developing a lot of institutional intelligence that is applicable across the board,” said Lynn Pettit, senior vice president of Institutional Clients Group human resources. “Year to date, we have brought in just under 50 percent of hires from campus. So there’s a lot of learning going on.”

Along with internal moves, Bartlett has watched some employees get noticed by senior management and move on to jobs with Citi in places like London, Hong Kong, Taiwan, San Francisco and New York City.

Citi declined to discuss salary ranges for its employees.

“It’s a really great thing for somebody that’s coming out of college to look at this and say, ‘If I get a job there, I can not only grow my career in whatever I’m looking for specifically, but then I’ve opened myself up to a whole world of possibilities,’ ” Bartlett said. “And literally ‘world,’ because we’ve had people move across the world as they’ve found their niche. I think that’s pretty special.”

Joseph Asselta, a 21-year Citi employee, brings an outside perspective to the Getzville location. Before transferring here last March from Tokyo, he had spent the past 12 years with Citi in Asia.

“Here in Buffalo, the level of talent, the level of knowledge now is equivalent to what we have in our trading hubs,” said Asselta, who is managing director of finance product control.

Hiring local grads

As Citi expanded locally, the company saw a need to staff up, which posed a new challenge.

“In order to be successful, we had to develop much stronger relationships with colleges and universities,” Pettit said. “We had long-tenured employees, we had very low turnover when it was just a cash management business. So we didn’t have the need to have this huge pipeline open to us.”

Its university partnerships were one solution. Citi has created what it sees as mutually beneficial relationships with three core members: the University at Buffalo, Niagara University and Canisius College.

Citi has built name recognition among students, and established a pipeline of talent from the colleges, said Ken Potts, senior vice president of finance product control. The colleges receive input that helps them ensure what they teach applies to what is required in jobs at Citi and other employers in the industry.

For instance, Citi provided UB with the YieldBook product to use in a fixed-income research course, Bartlett said. Students who take that course and end up getting hired by Citi or other financial institutions walk in with a working knowledge of the product.

In another example, at Niagara University Citi employees stressed to students the value of Excel spreadsheet skills in the workplace. That reinforced a message the professors had been trying to get across, Potts said.

Citi makes campus visits and has a competitive internship program. For this year’s edition, there were more than 400 applicants for 18 positions, most of which were filled by students from the partnership schools.

Timothy Downs, Niagara University’s vice president for academic affairs, said the partnership helps students transition to the workplace.

“The assumption is, you go to college and you get a job, which begins a career,” Downs said. “But students 18 to 22 really don’t understand what it takes to be successful in a career. They kind of know how to get a job, some of them more than others. So this process we are joint partners in helps them assimilate into the work world.”

Richard Wall, Canisius College’s vice president of academic affairs and a professor of economics and finance, said Citi sees Buffalo Niagara as a “university-rich region” and uses that resource to help combat the “brain drain” of college graduates from Western New York.

“Citi has recognized there is a model to keep them here and contribute to the economic development of Western New York,” he said. “And it’s a win for the region, it’s a win for Citi, it’s a win for the universities.”

New hires do not necessarily need to have a finance background in order to get hired at Citi. Many times, the company is looking for someone with “transferable” skills like leadership, innovation and a commitment to finding ways to do things better and more efficiently, Pettit said.

“I would suspect that some candidates might look at the job opportunities and get nervous about the fact they might not know what a derivative is, they might not know what some of these capital markets products are, and they might not know about how we move money around the world,” she said. “But we can teach them that. It is about getting the core skills, the right people for Citi.”

email: mglynn@buffnews.com