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BANKING

Sberbank: Gref’s great expectations

Sberbank CEO German Gref says he has led Russia’s biggest bank through a thorough transformation. It has grown onto the international stage and bulked up in investment banking. What are his objectives, and how does he see its role at home and in the region?

Sberbank CEO German Gref

An entourage of Russian state capitalism passed through London and New York in April, with German Gref at its head. But this was not a Putinesque display of nationalist bravado; it was a roadtrip aimed at investors, who have warmed to Sberbank under Gref’s leadership.

Some of the world’s biggest and best-known fund managers were at the meetings. A senior banker at a rival firm says Gref "is without doubt one of the most interesting figures in global banking today".

The firm made its first international listing in London last autumn; by early 2013, Gref’s bank – formerly the Soviet Union’s savings bank – was trading at valuations higher than US lenders such as JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, at around 1.4 times book value.

Along with the rest of the Russian market, its stock fell around 10% in February and March with global oil prices. But Sberbank’s valuation multiples were still around 50% higher than those of Russia’s state-owned lender VTB, perhaps its most direct rival.

In recent years, Sberbank’s return on equity has been at the top end of the range at 20% to 30%.