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Citigroup, once top US bank, slips to no. 4 behind Wells Fargo

[NEW YORK] Citigroup Inc, which pioneered the era of global megabanks before almost collapsing in the financial crisis, just slid behind Wells Fargo & Co to rank as the nation's fourth-biggest lender.

Wells Fargo's assets totaled US$1.79 trillion at the end of 2015, surpassing Citigroup's US$1.73 trillion, according to the companies' earnings reports Friday. It's not the only crown the San Francisco-based bank has taken from its New York rival: Just over a year ago, Wells Fargo broke Citigroup's longstanding record as the nation's most-valuable bank.

The latest hand-off underscores the difference in their strategies. Wells Fargo Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf has amassed deposits and snapped up assets from other lenders to spur growth. Citigroup CEO Mike Corbat, in contrast, has exited businesses and sold branch networks in some countries to hone the firm's focus and improve profitability.

The banks' rivalry heated up in 2008, when Wells Fargo outmaneuvered Citigroup to buy Wachovia Corp, acquiring an East Coast branch network and turbo-charging its growth. Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, helped scuttle Citigroup's earlier bid after clashing with former CEO Vikram Pandit during the financial crisis. Citigroup ultimately received and repaid the largest taxpayer bailout of a US bank.

Wells Fargo became the country's most valuable bank ever in December 2014, when its market capitalization amounted to US$285.5 billion. That broke a record Citigroup had set in February 2001, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. JPMorgan Chase & Co remains the nation's largest bank by assets, followed by Bank of America Corp.