(Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc. is putting one of its least glamorous businesses front and center in its upgrade project, aiming to show how a sprawling system of moving money around the world can boost profitability.

The services business — one of the bank’s five newly formed divisions — took the spotlight Tuesday at the bank’s Manhattan headquarters, where investors are being pitched by Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser and Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason. The restructuring and presentation will draw attention to a segment producing a growing share of the bank’s profits, accounting for almost half of the total last quarter.

“We are no longer the financial supermarket of the past,” Fraser told investors at the event, referring to the attempts by some predecessors to turn the bank into a universal one-stop shop. “Instead, our vision is focused.”

At its core, the division runs many of the pipes coursing through the financial system. It helps big international clients manage and move cash globally — handling payments for goods, services and salaries, processing capital flows and investments by funds, and providing cash at key junctures of supply chains.

It counts Amazon.com Inc. and Uber Inc. as some of its largest corporate clients. The US government also uses the bank for payroll at home and abroad.

“We are the ones sitting there in all these countries around the world, helping companies in the background,” Shahmir Khaliq, head of services, said in an interview. “We process close to $5 trillion every day.”

While the ups and downs of Citigroup’s trading operations and massive credit-card business typically attract more questions on earnings calls, the services business has become a pillar of steady profit. It is often a bright spot at a lender where broader results have lagged behind rivals and that faces regulatory pressure to spend money overhauling systems. On Monday, the stock dipped on a report the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is taking issue with the bank’s so-called living-will planning.

In services, higher interest rates have spurred the volume of money the division moves. And in April, Fraser — not for the first time — called it the firm’s “crown jewel.”

The division is expected to generate a return on tangible common equity — a measure of profitability — of a mid-20s percentage by 2026, Khaliq told investors Tuesday. Fraser said that performance will help Citigroup achieve its target for companywide ROTCE of 11% to 12% in the medium term, up from 4.9% last year.

Already, the boost from services has helped lift the stock price about 18% this year. It added 1% on Tuesday to $60.60 at 2 p.m. in New York.

“This business is a diamond in the rough,” said Mike Mayo, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co. “It’s a best-in-class business in a worst-in-class, but improving, company.”

Its relatively few competitors include JPMorgan Chase & Co. and HSBC Holdings Plc.

Can’t Recreate It

Citigroup’s network, closely entwined with its leading foreign-exchange teams, grew out of a decades-long campaign to piece together a global banking franchise. 

“You can’t go and build this network today — it’s way too complex,” Okan Pekin, head of securities services, said in an interview. “And the network doesn’t give you staying power and competitive advantage by itself. You need the tech, the people, relationships.”

The services business has been working on using artificial intelligence responsibly and with clear guardrails, Khaliq said, adding that the first use cases are expected to go live in the third and fourth quarters.

Across the broader bank, Citigroup’s global reach can have downside. In January, the lender added $1.3 billion to reserves to cover cross-border and cross-currency exposures in Argentina and risks related to Russia. The firm also is in the late stages of paring its retail banking presence in 14 countries.

“A lot of the time, investors who think they’re buying a simple turnaround story ask if they have to start worrying about the rupee or the peso,” said R. Scott Siefers, an analyst at Piper Sandler Cos. “That complicates the story sometimes.”

Citigroup’s stock initially underperformed the KBW Bank Index of major US lenders after Fraser took over in March 2021 with a mandate to overhaul internal systems. But the share price has fared better since she announced more aggressive measures to boost returns last year.

This week’s pitch aims to continue that momentum by showing investors there’s more room for the stock to run.

“Citigroup has a lot to prove,” said Mayo. And “there’s a wide range of outcomes for Jane Fraser. She could get fired in 2026 or be banker of the year.”

(Adds executives’ comments on targets from ninth paragraph.)

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