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Banking

Andrey Kostin: The face of Russian capitalism

VTB’s chief executive likens his role in Russian banking to that of a surgeon in a state-owned clinic. He’s certainly carved out a strong position in corporate and investment banking. He insists he can operate successfully in Russia’s new state-controlled capitalism, while resisting political pressure. Can he make what critics call his ‘grandiose scheme’ for VTB work?

Andrey Kostin, chief executive of VTB for the past 12 years, says that overtaking Sberbank to become Russia’s biggest bank is not an aim. "We never said we wanted to be the biggest bank," he says. But VTB – today Russia and eastern Europe’s second-biggest lender – is heading in that direction.

VTB’s emergence on the global banking stage has been rapid. Set up as the Soviet Union collapsed, it now operates in about 20 countries on four continents. VTB Capital – the investment bank it set up just five years ago – can hold its own in international capital markets against western banks with far more history.

According to Kostin, VTB’s assets have grown in rouble terms by more than 30 times in the past 10 years to some R8.4 trillion ($250 billion) at the end of the first half of 2013. "Today VTB’s assets equal half of Sberbank’s. Ten years ago the proportion was one to 10," he says.

All the same, one of the most commonly expressed opinions among Moscow’s financial community – outside the newly built 62-storey skyscraper east of central Moscow that now serves as VTB’s home – is that the firm’s remarkable rise is not without potential pitfalls.

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