Deborah McWhinney, the head of Citigroup's flagging personal banking and wealth management group, is leaving her post after a tumultuous two-year run in which she attempted to makeover the nation's third-largest bank following the spin-off of its Smith Barney brokerage unit in 2009.

In an internal memo from Paul Galant, the chief executive officer of Citi's global enterprise payment group and Cece Stewart, president of the firm's U.S. consumer commercial banking unit, it was announced that McWhinney will now become head of its newly created global digital merchant Acquiring group, reporting directly to Galant.

"With her substantial background in the payments industry while working at Bank of America and Visa International, Debby has a stellar reputation and an established track record of building businesses focusing on meeting client needs and delivering world-class execution," Gallant said in the memo.

Citi officials said the GEP unit represents "one of the most strategic growth opportunities, allowing us to leverage our industry-leading wholesale and retail payment capabilities across regions and organizations.

"Debby will lead our efforts to provide comprehensive payment solutions for the world's largest global institutional clients," he added.

McWhinney, who previously spent seven years running Schwab Institutional before joining Citi in March 2009, wasted little time before making waves at Citi when she initiated a strategy to transition bank brokers from a commission model to a fee-based platform that resulted in a massive exodus of the longtime Citi brokers.

Citi's roster of bank advisors fell from 553 in June 2009 to just over 300 in February before, according to Citi, rebounding to about 400 financial advisors and consultants today.

Last month, Citigroup Inc.'s fourth-quarter results fell well short of analysts' estimates, earning $1.3 billion, or 4 cents a share, on sales of $18.4 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had pegged it for a profit of 7 cents a share.

That shortfall was largely attributed to the shortcomings of its once-vaunted securities and banking unit which recorded sales of $3.5 billion in the quarter, including a negative CVA of $1 billion, down 37% from the third quarter.

While investment banking sales rose 25% sequentially to more than $1.2 billion, equity market revenue tumbled 43% to $596 million compared to the third quarter while fixed-income revenue plummeted 58% sequentially to $1.5 billion.

Despite widespread criticism of her attempt to "Schwabify" Citi's once-thriving wealth management unit, McWhinney stuck to her guns and established teams of four to 12 advisors to promote a more "entrepreneurial" approach.

In May, McWhinney told Bank Investment Consultant she felt the transition to a fee-only structure was going smoothly and positioned Citi for strong growth in the future.

"I've been very pleased with the growth of our advisory assets," she said at the time, adding that average account sizes were increasing and the "number of households with over $200,000 in assets is up significantly year over year, and that's after downsizing some people and after attrition."

Galant, in the memo, praised McWhinney for leading the personal banking and wealth management unit through "massive industry and regulatory changes" and credited her for positing the business for future growth.

"Over the past two years, Debby has done an excellent job of setting a strategy and driving execution for Citi's personal banking and wealth management business, building tremendous momentum in products, risk and wealth management," he said.

As to who will now head up Citi's personal banking and wealth management group, Stewart told RegisteredRep that no successor has been named, no timeframe for selecting a replacement has been established and the firm would take it's time to make sure it finds the right person.

Another component of McWhinney's mandate, besides shifting from a commission-based to fee-based approach and creating teams of four to 12 advisors to manage client portfolios, included a referral program under which Citi would pocket a fee -- reportedly 25 basis points -- on assets referred to outside RIAs.

That portion of the overarching strategy, according to Citi spokesman Sean Kevelighan, is now "on hold" pending comments from the Labor Department as it works to issue guidance to the financial services industry pertaining to separating retirement and non-retirement assets under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

However, Kevelighan said, for Citi advisors and clients, it's still business as usual as the company embarks on a search for a replacement.

"With new leadership, you can expect change but the overall strategy, including the team approach, will remain the same," he said.

Other recruiters agreed.

"I would bet the advisors are glad they stayed because they loved Debby and are glad that they have transitioned their business to a more fee based one- because it is a model that makes sense, that is the way of the world, and that is, in most cases, better for the client," said Mindy Diamond, president and CEO of financial services recruiting firm Diamond Consultants.

"While I'm betting that their advisors are sad she is moving on, I do know that most of their advisors feel like it is a good model and will assume that they will bring in a leader with similar vision and style," she added.