Gref vs. Kostin - whose bank will be cooler

There is competition between the two largest Russian state-owned banks. Rather, between their leaders - German Gref and Andrei Kostin.
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With all external prosperity, the effectiveness of Sberbank and VTB is in doubt. As long as state-owned banks dominate the market, the banking system will remain weak and will not be able to actively influence the economy, creating a competitive environment that is comfortable for the average client.

The pillars of the Russian financial system, Sberbank and VTB are in different weight categories. As of the end of last year, Sberbank’s assets amounted to 28.97 trillion rubles, VTB - half the amount, 14.48 trillion rubles. Accordingly, the net profit differs: from Sber - 814 billion rubles., At VTB - 170 billion rubles.
Sberbank owns a third of the total assets of all banks in Russia. Deposits of individuals amount to 12.76 trillion rubles. The client base in the Russian Federation is 110 million people and more than 1 million legal entities. The bank has 278 thousand employees, it has 89 branches (88 in the Russian Federation, 1 in India), 13,220 additional offices, 578 operational offices, 285 mobile points of cash operations, 90 operating cash desks outside the cash center. In addition, there are two representative offices in Beijing and Frankfurt. VTB, in addition to Russia, has representative offices in Milan, Beijing and Bishkek. But the rest of the achievements are much more modest. Deposits of individuals - 4.18 trillion rubles, and the total customer base of the group in Russia, as of October 2019, amounted to 13 million customers, which are served by 82 thousand employees. There are only 27 branches, additional and operational offices - 591 and 881, respectively. There are also 6 operating cash desks outside the cash register.

Both banks are state-owned. More precisely, these are banks with solid state participation: in Sberbank, the share of the Central Bank is 50.0% plus 1 share, in VTB more than 60.9% belongs to the Federal Property Management Agency. In fact, this completely excludes any rivalry.

Competition for the public

Competition in the fight for the client, demonstrated by Sberbank and VTB in public, is a game according to clearly defined rules that are set in advance. Both banks quite consciously maintain a balance in the quality and cost of services to the population. A few years ago, it seemed that VTB decided to really fight with Sberbank in the retail segment by creating VTB 24. The treasury allocated $ 700 million for the reorganization of Guta Bank, which was transformed into VTB 24. The new bank, however, was not entirely universal. Either by chance, or consciously, he was clearly focused on clients from the upper segment of the middle class. Then there was a reorganization of the Bank of Moscow. This long and dramatic story ended only in 2016. As a result, VTB’s expenses for this operation exceeded $ 14 billion, which was three times the total value of all Bank of Moscow assets. But in the process of reorganization, VTB 24 managed to take the small Bryansk “Bezhitsa Bank” - the “daughter” of “Bank of Moscow”. On its basis, in 2012, the so-called lightweight “Summer Bank” was created, designed for more modest customers. Rather - on very young, but ambitious and advanced.

Unusual design, unconventional interior of offices, interesting social projects - such as planting trees around the world. “Summer Bank” was the first to offer its customers a refund of interest on a loan and returned more than 500 million rubles for three and a half years. A year later, in 2013, he was recognized as the best banking project. In 2014, he entered the top 10 best brands according to Forbes magazine. In 2015, Summer Bank brand recognition reached 60%. Over three years, the volume of VTB 24 investments in the new bank amounted to 25 billion rubles. It also became known that according to the results of 2015, the loss of Summer Bank amounted to 4 billion rubles, according to the results of 2014 - 5.3 billion rubles ...
Already in January 2016, the establishment of Post Bank was officially announced. On the basis of the post offices of "Russian Post" and "Summer Bank" - a bright "daughter" of VTB 24. VTB was able to earn 5 billion rubles on this deal.

The new bank is not hit by innovation. Its main clients are pensioners, and employees are postal workers. All that remains of the driving "Summer Bank" is that a sluggish offer to customers to donate for tree planting.

In January 2018, the Bank Post package, together with VTB 24, which had its license revoked, was transferred to VTB. Just in case, in order not to drag a suitcase without a handle, because there is already experience, VTB sold its “plus one” share to the chairman of the bank, Dmitry Rudenko. And he was right. A good start Post Bank (net profit in 2018 was 78%) did not get the same great continuation - over the past year, net profit fell by 40% and amounted to only 6 billion rubles. Which, in general, is understandable: you won’t earn much on pensioners, and Dmitry Rudenko is not ready to finance the business. This is always a risk, he said.

Strange recognition for the banker, but quite characteristic of VTB.

Back in 2015, at the Russia Calling! Forum, the head of the bank, Andrei Kostin, announced his credo. “If today small and medium-sized businesses are not in demand in the country, there is no field of activity for them, then what is the point of lending to them?” He rapped out.

He added that lending to small and medium-sized businesses is risky, citing their own bank as an example. According to him, due to cash loans to small businesses in early 2014, VTB's profit fell 40 times. Now, however, he speaks very differently. It even requires freeing small businesses from personal income tax. But this is all talk. The real trend in current government policy is to increase tax collection. No wonder that the former head of the Federal Tax Service was appointed prime minister. And Kostin, as a member of the highest council of the ruling party and the head of the state bank, simply cannot but welcome such an approach.

It seems that VTB stopped the experiment on creating specialized - and competitive - subsidiaries and concentrated on simpler things. More precisely, I decided to prudently follow the leader, that is, Sberbank, in the field of customer service. And of course, the most fashionable - the so-called ecosystem.

Ecosystem: Consume and Conquer

While VTB invested in the development of Summer Bank and Post Bank, Sberbank invested more than $ 1 billion (3% profit) in non-financial assets. Already today, the Sberbank ecosystem unites three dozen companies providing services in various areas: e-commerce and medicine, telecommunications and training, cloud technologies and product delivery, business optimization and taxi booking, real estate and shopping. To develop and promote all these numerous services, a separate Sber X Directorate has been created in the bank. According to the plans, Sberbank should become a universal technology company and compete not with banks, but with e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba. According to this strategy, the recently acquired portal "Work.Ru" and shares of Rambler Group. At the end of last year, information appeared that the bank had set its sights on buying out a stake in Mail.Ru from Gazprombank. In the future, Sberbank will unite more and more manufacturers of goods and services around itself, pulling gullible customers into the pool of consumerism with more and more attractive offers.

“Our task is to make people feel calm and confident, and also to help realize their hopes and aspirations. There are no words about giving them money as a loan or that we are a bank, ”says Lev Khasis, Gref’s First Deputy.

VTB has no ecosystem yet. Only last year, the bank decided on this risky step - apparently, fully appreciating the achievements of a competitor. And they allocated 158 million rubles. for advice on its creation. And they also promised 320 million rubles. for those who are ready to develop a strategy for 2019–2022.

It’s hard to call it competition. Rather, it is only a way to entangle a client with a network of numerous paid services, including ritual ones, and thereby tie him to himself until the end of his life.
Nevertheless, competition between the two largest Russian state-owned banks exists. Rather, between their leaders - German Gref and Andrei Kostin. And it does not take place at all in the battles for customer loyalty (in any case, not ordinary investors and borrowers), but for influence on Vladimir Putin. In order to fully appreciate the intensity of the struggle, it is worth following the life path of two great financiers.

Two bright tales

Fortune did not give Herman Gref rich and influential relatives. He was born in the distant village of Panfilovo, Kazakh SSR, into a family of ethnic Germans expelled from Donbass in 1941. Father was an engineer, mother - an economist in the village council. He studied well, but did not enter the institute immediately after school and honestly cut off two years in the Armed Forces of the USSR in the special forces of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (guarding prisons and camps, escorting prisoners). Demobilized, Gref entered the law faculty of Omsk University, and after graduation he went to graduate school of the law faculty of Leningrad State University. Gref’s supervisor turned out to be Anatoly Sobchak.

Sobchak had many students, but not all of them later became statesmen or at least big businessmen. Gref was lucky. Already in 1991, he began working in the city administration. First, in the Committee for Economic Development and Property of Petrodvorets, then became the first deputy chairman of the Committee on City Property Management. He met not only Alexei Kudrin, Dmitry Kozak, Dmitry Medvedev, who worked in the same place, but also with Vladimir Putin. But Gref did not reach the top of his St. Petersburg career under Sobchak, but under Governor Vladimir Yakovlev — in 1997–1998 he was vice-governor and joined the boards of directors of the Sea Port and Channel 5.

Then he ended up at the Ministry of State Property, became a member of the board of the Federal Commission for the Securities Market, and the head of the Center for Strategic Research. In the government of Vladimir Putin in 1999 became the first deputy minister of state property. And after Putin became president, he was invited by Prime Minister Kasyanov to the post of Minister of Economic Development created specially for him. He stayed there under Fradkov. During this time, Gref managed to achieve the introduction of a “flat” tax of 13%, to begin the process of privatization of state enterprises and the promotion of Russia in the WTO. But the revolutionary transformations quickly ended, and in 2007 the Fradkov government resigned, and Gref - to the post of president and chairman of the board of Sberbank of Russia.

They say that, having appeared in Sberbank and appreciating the devastation, the optimistic Gref said: “If we change Sberbank, we will change the country.” And rolled up his sleeves cheerfully took up the restructuring. Hoping to prove to the president, who has already embarked on spirit-building and conservatism, that reforms are possible and lead to amazing results. The experiment was a success. Sberbank led by Gref has become the most expensive brand in the Russian Federation. Gref himself is still appreciated and respected by Putin.

But recently it became known that the Central Bank is transferring its share in Sberbank to the Russian government. “When I came to my position, I came with a certain concept. And if the concept is changed, then I don’t see my place in the company, ”Gref said.

It is possible that the new government does not see. After all, there is no one with whom Gref once began to transform Russia.

The Kremlin, it seems, is also not very worried about this threat. “German Oskarovich is a truly extremely successful leader of Sberbank. And not only Sberbank. You know, he participates in processes related to artificial intelligence, and so on, ”said Gref, press secretary Dmitry Peskov. And he did not hope in a word that the concept of the bank’s development will not change.

But even on the eve of the sad end of his Sberbank career, Gref remained true to himself: “It seems to me that we can greatly benefit the country today, using our platform for technological transformation. There are not many alternatives in Russia, and we can be a very powerful platform for the development of the country, for digital transformation, ”he explained. He is still looking to the future, believes in technological progress and believes that only in this way are social and political reforms in the country possible. Faith is dangerous, but the very fact of a constant commitment to reform is respected.

Andrei Kostin is a completely different person. And this is understandable. Kostin is a native of the Soviet nomenclature family. His father worked in the apparatus of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

Costin Jr., of course, did not smell the heavy army life. Immediately after school, he entered the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University. After graduation, the newly-minted international economist went to the Consulate General of the USSR in Australia, where he worked diligently in issuing visas. For a decade, he was Secretary of the European Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an employee of the USSR Embassy in the UK.

In 1992, Kostin left the Foreign Ministry and took up his favorite business - finance. Mostly their own. He was deputy at Alexander Lebedev's Russian Investment and Finance Company, at Imperial banks and at the National Reserve. And finally, in 2002, he himself became president and chairman of the board of VTB (then Vneshtorgbank).

According to the results of 2011, Kostin took first place in the ranking of the highest paid Russian top managers according to Forbes, having earned about $ 30 million per year. According to the results of 2012 - $ 35 million. At the end of 2013, he again headed the rating with an estimate of $ 37 million. All these data are approximate, official information about Kostin’s income is not published, VTB does not distinguish its remuneration from the total amount of payments to top management. Kostin himself said that in 2013 he earned only 200 million rubles, and in 2014 - 240 million rubles. According to him, this is a reward from VTB and income from personal investments that "have nothing to do with VTB."

Nevertheless, the investigation of Alexei Navalny clearly showed: Kostin does not use his money to buy mansions, land, aircraft. The court decisions on the basis of which Roskomnadzor blocked sites containing these materials said that they discredit the reputation of Andrei Kostin and the bank. But no refutation of the facts was presented.

Back in 2009, Alexander Lebedev spoke in an interview about a bank rollback scheme. “Give a 10% rollback, no one will figure out if you will repay the loan. And many senior VTB managers bought, of course, yachts, villas, airplanes for fake offshore companies ... Here we have a state-owned bank that is very reliable, as is commonly believed. So explain what is his role in the economy? Maybe he supports small business, thanks to his loans, new factories were built, they started to produce something? ”

It is very difficult to judge the role of VTB in the Russian economy. However, as well as the role of Sberbank, unless, of course, it is considered, like Gref, a model for reforming the state.

At a time when Gref was informed that his bank was changing hands, Kostin received much more joyful news. He announced that a decision had finally been made on the bad debts of the defense industry enterprises. As Kostin himself specified, “the president’s decree has been adopted, however, it is closed.” And he immediately said that “there is active participation of the budget and preferential restructuring by leading banks, too, but it is such - feasible, reasonable, it really takes into account, probably, the risk that the banks took”. Simply put, all the risks and all the losses of VTB, as well as Sberbank and other participating banks, are again borne by the state.

Do not see a reason

In 2018, Alexander Faek, an analyst at Sberbank CIB, in a report to shareholders indicated that the main beneficiaries of Gazprom's investment program are companies owned by Arkady Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko. Six months earlier, Fack harshly criticized the policy of Rosneft and specifically its head, Igor Sechin. After this, Fack and his leader Alexander Kudrin were immediately dismissed, Gref personally apologized to the offended and insulted businessmen. It is unlikely that he cared about the public reputation of Sberbank - a bold report would rather honor him. Moreover, if the bank, based on the reports, took appropriate measures, the country's economy would only benefit.

Similarly, in the case of Navalny’s investigation of VTB Leasing, according to which in 2007 the company overpaid $ 160 million for 30 drilling rigs. Instead of firing the fined employees, Kostin should have forced them to pay a forfeit. The bank’s reputation would only benefit from this. After all, the stolen money belongs to shareholders, the largest of which is Russia.

The domestic banking system is still opaque. Especially in the case of state banks. This is a very closed world, which exists due to infusions from the treasury, that is, population taxes that Sberbank and VTB spend on political national projects or the economic prosperity of the Kremlin team. This will continue until state-owned banks dominate the market. Such a dependent banking system will be weak and will not be able to actively influence the economy and create a competitive environment comfortable for the average client.