The giveaway was the simultaneous resignation of the bank's chief operating officer, John Havens. Smooth handovers of power do not prompt the boss's right-hand man to quit on the spot in sympathy.
But we should look beyond the drama of Pandit's exit. The real surprise is perhaps that he lasted so long. He was, as one US analyst put it, an "accidental" chief executive, thrust into the job in December 2007 when Chuck Prince was finally hauled off the dance floor as the credit crunch arrived.
Pandit successfully led Citigroup through a bailout and semi-nationalisation but, to his critics, that's all he did. He did not, for example, provide a clear answer to the question: "what's Citigroup for?" For all the boasts about returning to the basics of banking, even a smaller Citigroup looks a sprawling and disjointed empire.Shareholders – and the board – might have been more forgiving if Pandit had avoided accidents. But Citigroup came off worst in the spat with Morgan Stanley over the valuation of the Smith Barney brokerage. Even before that, there was the embarrassment of a 55% vote against the bank's remuneration policies, a stunning rebuke in the US, a land of passivity on pay. Pandit was a weaker figure thereafter. The sense that Citigroup should be serving its shareholders better – notwithstanding the welcome for Monday's numbers – has been growing.
Chairman Michael O'Neill played to that theme in hailing Mike Corbat, Pandit's successor, as a man "to sharpen our focus on achieving strong, sustained operating performance". Sharpening of focus will surely also mean a sharpening of the knife since Citigroup's biggest problems are obvious. It is paying too many senior staff too much in too many places.
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