Citibank, whose numerous locations across the country include this branch in New York’s Chinatown, plans to open about a dozen de novo branches across Connecticut within the next year.

Bank customers in the northern parts of Connecticut soon will have another choice. New York based-Citibank – which already has 10 branches in Fairfield and New Haven counties, including several that opened recently – plans to open about a dozen de novo branches across the state within the next year.

That strategy is part of a larger, national plan, which will result in about 100 new branches across the country, including some in markets like Boston and Philadelphia, which Citibank – the retail banking arm of financial services giant Citigroup – has not yet touched.

“It is part of the bank’s effort to expand distribution,” said Rob Julavits, a spokesman for the bank.

Most of the 100 new branches will be in Citibank’s existing markets, Julavits said. But some new markets – including Hartford – are a part of the plan.

Citibank has historically concentrated much of its energy on online banking and banking outside of the country, according to Joe Sullivan, chief executive officer of Market Insights in Chicago, a bank consulting firm.

“They are in very few markets in the United States,” he said.

And although the bank has made some large acquisitions over the past three years, including that of California Federal Bank, it has not focused on expansion through de novo branching for some time.

“Branching has not been a huge priority.” Sullivan said.

This year marks a change in that strategy. Citibank has tripled its branch network in the United States over the last five years, but it has mostly been through acquisitions, Julavits said. The West Coast was the focus of many of those acquisitions, Sullivan said.

“We have not embarked on a major de novo effort like we’re doing this time,” Julavits said.

Sullivan, however, was slightly perplexed by the small number of de novo branches the bank is planning to open. In Connecticut, banks like Waterbury-based Webster Bank and North Carolina-based Bank of America have a huge presence.

“I wonder what critical presence they can have [in Connecticut],” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t seem like that’s enough branches to me.”

But, he noted, it could mark a change in Citibank’s philosophy. Although it has not concentrated on retail banking in the past, its online banking has won awards, and Citibank typically markets to sophisticated, technically savvy customers who do not often visit branches and instead bank online.

The bank also is expanding in other ways, perhaps illustrating its new focus on retail banking.

Its online banking services are led by an electronic savings account that has a 4.75 percent rate, Julavits said. In addition, Citibank has signed an agreement with the convenience store chain 7-Eleven, which has allowed the bank to install 5,500 branded ATMs across the country. The bank also has introduced an awards program called ThankYou, which allows customers to earn points on purchases they can redeem for merchandise.

“[The rewards program] seems un-Citibank-like,” Sullivan said. But it might illustrate a change to more of a focus on retail banking, he added.

Sullivan said he was also surprised by the news that Citibank, which has so successfully penetrated other markets through acquisitions, is planning on de novo branching for this next step.

To attract customers, though, the bank will have to pick good locations for the branches they are opening in Connecticut, Sullivan said. They will have to be in areas that are magnets for retail banking in order to capture customers.

‘Differentiating Factors’

The bank already has leased 5,000 square feet of retail space in the former Sage-Allen building on Hartford’s Main Street, a representative from the bank told The Hartford Courant. The building is being converted to luxury apartments and townhouses.

In addition to the Hartford branch, Citibank has signed leases for branches in Bristol, Newington and Avon, according to bank spokesman Luis Rosero.

Bank officials are hoping that Citigroup’s existing customers – for products like mortgages and credit cards – will be among those Citibank can reach. And with the rewards program and the bank’s diverse product line, it should be able to compete with other, more prevalent, banks in the state.

“We think we have a lot of differentiating factors,” Julavits said.

Last November, Citigroup announced the opening of two new Citibank branches in Fairfield County.

CreditSights, a leading provider of independent credit research, reported in November that Citigroup began a steady de novo growth strategy last year and intends to accelerate its growth in 2006 and 2007. The company has opened about 30 branches in the past 12 months, including one in Norwalk that opened in April 2005.

“We’re focused on organic growth in the [United States],” said Citigroup spokesman Mark Rogers at that time.

The growth strategy came about because of recent restructuring of the institution’s management, according to the CreditSights report. The new leadership of Citigroup’s consumer segment is focusing on delivering loan products through retail branches, although the institution does remain behind some others, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which commonly use that model.