By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Citigroup has agreed to sell its consumer business in four Southeast Asian markets to United Overseas Bank (UOB) for S$4.915 billion ($3.65 billion), bringing the U.S. bank closer to its goal of exiting retail operations in 13 markets.

The proposed acquisition by UOB will be its biggest in two decades and will double the group’s retail customer base in the four markets in Southeast Asia, where the Singapore bank already has a large presence and competes with rivals DBS Group and OCBC.

Citi’s exit from Southeast Asia comes after CEO Jane Fraser said last year the bank would close retail operations in 13 markets, including 10 in Asia, to refocus on its more lucrative institutional and wealth management businesses.

“Focusing our business through these actions will facilitate additional investment in our strategic focus areas, including our institutional network across Asia Pacific, driving optimal returns for Citi,” Peter Babej, Citi’s Asia Pacific CEO, said in a statement on Friday.

UOB, Southeast Asia’s third-biggest bank, said it would acquire Citi’s unsecured and secured lending portfolios, wealth management and retail deposit businesses in the four countries.

“UOB believes in Southeast Asia’s long-term potential and we have been disciplined, selective and patient in seeking the right opportunities to grow,” said Wee Ee Cheong, UOB’s deputy chairman and chief executive.

The bank said the proposed acquisition is expected to be financed through its excess capital, and it remains comfortable maintaining its dividend policy of a 50% payout ratio.

Citi’s consumer business in the four markets employs about 5,000 employees, who will be transferred to UOB.

“The total cash consideration for the proposed acquisition, will be calculated based on an aggregate premium equivalent to S$915 million plus the net asset value of the consumer business as at completion,” UOB said.

It said Citigroup’s consumer business in these markets had an aggregate net asset value of about S$4 billion and a customer base of about 2.4 million as at June 30, 2021. These generated income of about S$0.5 billion in the first half of 2021.

Last year, Citi agreed to sell its Philippines’ consumer banking franchise, wound down its South Korean consumer bank and sold its Australian consumer banking business.

Citigroup had also announced plans to exit retail operations in India, Taiwan and China.

Credit Suisse (Singapore) is the financial adviser to UOB on the latest deal, while Allen & Overy LLP (Singapore) is the legal adviser.

($1 = 1.3461 Singapore dollars)

(Reporting by Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Himani Sarkar)