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Banking

Russian investment bankers don suits

Scotching a reputation for cowboy practices, they are responding to demands for more sophistication and the state’s desire to create an important financial centre. New respectability is accompanied by impending consolidation that will leave eight or so leading houses. Elliot Wilson reports.

LIKE RUSSIA, A proud nation that has struggled with its own, post-communist identity, Moscow’s investment banking industry has spent the past two decades deciding what it really wants to be.

Since the early 1990s, when the nation opened its doors to foreign capital for the first time since 1917, investment banking has grown in fits and starts, proving either very profitable (1996 to mid-1998 and 2005 to mid-2008) or a horrendous vortex for sucking in money. It has also been dismissed as a dysfunctional market, at times blighted by financial freebooters.

In the past, investment banks have often leapt in feet first before realizing their mistake and have struggled to earn a regular wage in Moscow. One leading European banker said working in the capital was "like trying to get friendly with a bear: so long as you can feed and care for the beast you’re fine, but as soon as you run out of food, you’ll have your face ripped off".

Russia’s gruff, bearish image has been well earned. Over the past two decades big fortunes have been made, creating a whole class of billionaire-oligarchs. Those fortunes could often only be made because the country was the Wild East, a place where one’s personal safety, as well as that of one’s family, was dependent on an ability to dodge bullets, real and metaphorical.

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