Russia risks derailing banks’ regional plans

As Europe has stagnated since the financial crisis, Russia proved an invaluable source of returns for a handful of lucky western banking groups. But with Putin on the offensive, the rouble on the slide and recession on the horizon, its days as an engine of regional growth look to be over.

As head of one of the largest western banks in Russia, Sergei Monin could be forgiven for feeling uneasy about the outlook for 2015. Instead, at least at the time of Euromoney’s meeting with him in November, the CEO of Raiffeisenbank is almost astonishingly confident. "Even in a worst case scenario where all ties between Russia and the west are frozen, I think we would still be able to do good business," he says.

It would be a mistake to dismiss this as mere bravado. Monin has had first-hand experience of Raiffeisenbank’s powers of survival. In nearly two decades since he joined the bank as a graduate in 1996, it has weathered a succession of shattering storms and in between times managed to chart a safe course through the murky waters of the Russian market, avoiding hazards that have sunk a boat-load of would-be competitors.

We are not seeing any major problems in our corporate loan portfolio. The average quality is deteriorating due to the economic slowdown, but the tendency is very gradual and the quality is still much higher than it was in 2008

Sergei Monin, Raiffeisenbank

These survival skills have proved invaluable, not only for the bank itself, but also for its Austrian parent. In the years since the financial crisis, as returns from the rest of its central and eastern European network slumped, Raiffeisen has become increasingly dependent on its Russian operation. In 2010, Russia contributed 20.7% of group pre-tax profits of €1.29 billion. By 2013, the group figure had fallen to €835 million while Russia’s input had risen to a record €615 million, or 73.7% of the total.