When Citigroup’s biggest shareholder, Prince al-Waleed bin-Talal, wanted an introduction to new CEO Michael Corbat, the Saudi billionaire turned to Alberto Verme. Al-Waleed is one of a glittering roster of clients assigned to Verme, Citi’s chairman of banking for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The London-based deal maker has built his career on his relationships with the powerful. Last year Verme logged 250,000 miles and attended more than 240 meetings with top executives. “I like to be as close to my clients as possible when they need me,” says the 55-year-old banker.

Verme spent much of the past summer advising Igor Sechin, president of Russia’s Rosneft, on the state-owned oil giant’s $55 billion acquisition of TNK-BP from U.K. oil company BP and Russia’s AAR Consortium, a venture of Alfa Group, Access Industries and Renova Group. The long-simmering deal will boost Citi’s EMEA M&A business when it closes in June. Last year the division ranked sixth worldwide, with $208 billion in deal volume, up 35 percent from 2011, according to Dealogic.

When he assumed his current post in November 2011, Verme inherited ten of the bank’s most valuable clients. Besides Rosneft and al-Waleed, they include U.K. telecommunications group Vodafone Group and Spanish power utility Iberdrola. “Alberto is a man of great integrity,” al-Waleed says. “We have a strong working relationship, and I also enjoy his company when we go walking together in the desert.”

Born in Lima and raised in the Peruvian city of Ica, Verme originally aspired to be a poet. He attended Ohio’s Denison University, attracted by the school’s strong liberal arts program and the fact that Denison’s colors matched those of his native flag. But to his parents’ relief, Verme decided to study economics. After graduating in 1979 he joined the World Bank in Washington, where he became a financial analyst under then-president Robert McNamara. A comment by McNamara that Latin America would lag Asia in development over the next 25 years — made in 1981, on the eve of the Latin debt crisis — inspired Verme to pursue a banking career. “I decided that I wanted to work in an industry that helped people and that I wanted to help Latin America with capital and ideas,” he recalls.