Walter Bigelow Wriston: An Influential Wall Street Giant

Posted on Updated on

By Phineas Upham

Walter Bigelow Wriston was president of Citibank from 1967-1970, and served as the bank’s chairman until 1984. He would become one of the nation’s most prominent names in banking, helping to expand Citibank’s operations in commercial and residential sectors. Although he retired in 1984, he did not stop his activities in the financial sector, and is credit with a few innovations we still use today. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, Wriston grew up as the son of a historian who would eventually become president of Brown University. Walter B. Wriston graduated from Wesleyan College in 1941, after which he served four years in the U.S. Army. When he received his honorable discharge in 1946, he joined the rank and file of First National City Bank, the bank that would become Citibank.

Wriston worked his way through the bank, and developed a reputation for being knowledgeable and influential. Under Wriston, Citibank developed home mortgage credit-card services. He invented and deployed the world’s first ATMs, machines most of us still use today. When President Reagan took office, he tapped Wriston as the chair for his Economic Policy Advisory Board from 1982-89. During and just after his time as chair, Wriston published two important books on economic finance and philosophy. The first came in 1986, Risk and Other Four Letter Words, detailing how industry and banking have shaped the modern world. He also penned The Twilight of Sovereignty in 1992, which explores how the instant access to information is changing the modern world.

Wriston received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, and he died one year later at the age of 85.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Facebook page.