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Cam Smith and Citi suck at the Saudi teat

Sponsorship involves putting your own political capital at risk, something Citigroup would know all too well.

Michael RoddanNational correspondent

Sponsorship involves putting your own political capital at risk, something Citigroup would know all too well, given the extensive array of recipients of the institution’s gratuity, such as Taronga Zoo, Paralympics Australia, and awards for finance journalists (including those won by this writer).

Another is the mulletted golf powerhouse Cameron Smith, who was evidently a prescient choice for Citi given his July triumph at the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in Scotland. That triumph was celebrated by Citi’s global Twitter account, which congratulated him on “taking home the hardware” from the birthplace of the game.

Australian golfer Cam Smith and the flowing mullet. Getty

Even Citi’s (Scottish-born) global CEO Jane Fraser weighed in, posting to her LinkedIn that she was “thrilled” to see Smith’s “five straight birdies and some incredible putts”, while Citi’s Australian chief executive Marc Luet said he “could not be more proud” of the golfer.

Citi’s social media accounts have long been publicly supportive of Smith, wishing him luck in April for the final round of the US Masters tournament in Georgia. That’s after it tweeted congrats for his win at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida in March, and before that in Hawaii in January.

Even last year, in August, Citi was crowing it was “proud to sponsor Cameron Smith, today and every day, after his record-tying 18 putts through 18 holes” that week.


But the financial institution’s previously active fandom for the World No. 2 has gone quiet since the 29-year-old defected from the PGA Tour in August to join the rival LIV Golf tournament, controversially financed by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund.

Which is a little odd, given Smith is still in hot form, shooting six-under-par at his first outing at LIV Boston, one shot behind the eventual winners, while taking out first place at LIV Golf Chicago last week.

It would be a shame if Citi was getting cold feet about Smith since he joined Greg Norman’s renegade tour in a rumoured $US100 million ($151 million) deal, which has split the golfing community, as professionals accuse players of taking huge sums of cash from a brutal regime.

And you’d think Citi, with its vast array of social-minded sponsorships and lengthy diversity policy, would also be an incongruous fit in the Arabic Kingdom – but you would be wrong.

While the New York-headquartered bank shut down operations in Saudi Arabia after the September 11 attacks in 2001 (the only US retail institution there at the time) it has slowly, and quietly, built back its presence after a decade-and-a-half on the outer.

This includes participating in the 2019 float of Saudi Aramco (the world’s biggest contributor to global climate emissions) after Citi secured an investment banking licence in the country a year earlier. And things have only got busier since then.


Last year, Citi advised on the listing of Saudi renewable energy firm ACWA Power, was lead underwriter on the sale of the state’s $US3.2 billion stake in Saudi Telecom, and advised the sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, on its $US380 million purchase of Newcastle United soccer club. Not even Roman Abramovich gets away with owning Chelsea FC. What gives?

And while Citi is pulling out of retail banking in a dozen countries (including Australia), it is aiming to enter the market in Saudi Arabia, which would allow it to manage corporate accounts and the cash of wealthy individuals. Fraser even visited Saudi Arabia last year, sharing a meal with Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, holding a falcon and patting a camel.

So, good luck to Smith, as long as he’s better than Jamal Khashoggi at escaping bunkers he should be fine.

Citi ought to fire up that Twitter account again. Allahu Akbar!

Michael Roddan is a Walkley Award-winning national correspondent based in Sydney. He is a former business and economics reporter for The Australian. Connect with Michael on Twitter. Email Michael at [email protected]

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