Russia’s new brand of banking
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Russia’s new brand of banking

Oleg Tinkov is at the forefront of the consumer-banking boom that is changing Russian finance. Tinkoff Credit Systems encapsulates all that is innovative – and risky – about the sector. This bank and others like it have everything the state banks lack. But in Russia that can mean trouble.

This is not the kind of bank or bank owner you might expect in Russia, a country that still has a reputation for bureaucracy, drab offices and an oligarch- and state-dominated banking system.

Oleg Tinkov is the founder of Tinkoff Credit Systems: a branchless Russian bank specializing in credit cards, with a heavy focus on marketing and the internet. Specialized retail lenders in Russia have rapidly outpaced conventional commercial banksover the past two years, and none more so than Tinkoff.

Tinkoff’s loan portfolio grew by almost 80% in 2010, by more than 100% in 2011 and almost 60% in the first half of 2012. "We’re growing like hell," says Tinkov. "We’re entrepreneurial and we have spirit, freedom and creativity."

He adds: "This is a young and sexy bank," emphasizing that the bigger banks, particularly the state-owned ones, are not.

Rather like the English entrepreneur Richard Branson, who is a friend and role model, Tinkov – or Tinkoff (as his bank is marketed) – sometimes promotes his own personality alongside a string of mass-market consumer products associated with his name. Such outgoing and consumer-savvy bank owners are rare in Russia.

But for someone with a large photo of himself emblazoned on his business card, Tinkov is surprisingly uncomfortable about his own status in the bank.