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For Vikram Pandit, Tuesday will provide a momentary break from the harsh spotlight steadily focused on Citigroup Inc., and a chance to turn the focus to his institution's less traditional lending efforts in underserved communities.

Pandit, Citi's chief executive, and Robert A. Annibale, its global director of microfinance, were scheduled to spend Tuesday in San Antonio to mark the one-year anniversary of Citi's partnership with Accion Texas, the nation's largest microlender. The day will include Pandit's first meeting with Janie Barrera, Accion Texas' president and CEO, who brokered a landmark five-year deal with Citi in August of last year.

Under that deal, Citi agreed to purchase up to $30 million of the nonprofit's small-business loans. Annibale said Monday that so far, Citi has purchased $6.5 million, or over a quarter, of the $22 million of loans Accion Texas originated over the past year, and projected that the percentage will almost double next year.

"What we set off to do together is taking off very nicely. We think in 2010, the program has the ability to scale very much and maybe even more than we expected," Annibale said in an interview. "In 2010, we think that 40%, and maybe up to 50%, of the assets that Accion Texas will originate could be on this risk-sharing basis with Citi, which means that they can really expand their use of their capital to reach a lot more clients."

Gary L. Lindner, Accion Texas' chief operating officer, said by email Monday that in 2010, "I anticipate we will lend $17.5 million in microloans, of which $7.5" million, or 40%, will be sold to Citi. Barrera told American Banker in June that Citi had agreed to expand its commitment beyond the original $30 million, but Annibale said Monday that Citi's projections of at least 40% participation next year are still "in line with our original plan in 2008." But "I'm very pleased, because between when we started the discussion in 2008 and 2010, there's been some major headwinds in the economy," he said. "And yet the portfolio and the momentum is there to achieve what we hoped to lay out originally."

Citi, of course, has been at the center of many of those headwinds, especially in Washington. But Annibale said that the increased level of political and reputational scrutiny of his company has not translated into restrictions on his agenda. "My job hasn't changed at all," he said. "We're sticking to our plans, we see the momentum and the growth just as we had laid out in 2008."

 

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