by Elliot Wilson
Another year, another hugely successful edition of VTB Capital’s annual RUSSIA CALLING! investment forum, which brings together leading global institutional investors as well as many of Russia’s largest and most powerful corporates under one roof in Moscow.
The forum has become a bellwether of the global business scene, offering investors from around the world the chance to meet and build relations with the country’s corporate chiefs – while shaking hands on deals that will continue to drive forward Russia’s rebounding economy.
This year’s RUSSIA CALLING! forum proved to be yet another dazzling success. Attendance was up 10% on last year’s figures, as a record 2,000 delegates, including more than 400 from over 60 nations flocked to the World Trade Centre building in central Moscow, according to figures just released by VTB Capital.
But it was less the quantity of the attendees and more their individual and overall quality that mattered, says Olga Podoinitsyna, Member of the Board at VTB Capital.
“We are Russia’s leading investment forum, and our audience is highly focused and very selective in terms of whom we invite,” she says. “We had CEOs and fund managers from Europe, the US, Middle East and North Africa, and Asia attend. Many of the biggest African business were here too. It was a very high-quality turnout.”
The figures will help to rebuff speculation that interest in Russia among international investors was declining.
A newly competitive ruble and fresh growth in some sectors of the economy have helped spur renewed interest from Europe, the US and Asia. High-profile media outlets such as The Daily Telegraph and Euromoney were among a large contingent to travel from the UK.
You only need to look at the list of delegates and speakers to see the truth in that.
VTB Capital’s RUSSIA CALLING! investment forum offered leading domestic and global investors the chance to meet and interact with the country’s political powerbrokers, from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin – the forum’s star speaker – to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Governor of the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) Elvira Nabiullina.
President Putin answered questions for more than an hour in what proved to be the cornerstone of the three-day event, at a panel entitled: ‘Promoting durable cooperation, unlocking growth opportunities’.
The President was flanked by a host of leading corporate figures from around the world, including Andrey Kostin, Chairman of the Management Board of VTB Bank, Lazarus Zim, CEO of Mexico-based Atisa Group, and Stefan Schulte, Chairman of the Executive Board at German airport services giant Fraport, which is the lead developer on the reconstruction of St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport.
Many of the leading lights had arrived straight off a plane from Lima and another key annual global business and trade conference, this one co-hosted by the IMF and the World Bank. Discussions in the Peruvian capital had ranged from the timing of an interest-rate hike in the United States, to China’s slowing economy, to growth forecasts across the emerging world.
Russia was a key subject of debate at both events. In Lima, CBR Governor Nabiullina received a slew of awards saluting her steadfast ability to maintain monetary and fiscal stability in Russia.
At VTB Capital’s RUSSIA CALLING!, President Putin showered the central bank with praise for its role in helping weather the recent economic storms, exacerbated by oil prices plateauing at a lower level. “We have generally reached the peak of the crisis, and overall our economy is adapting to these new economic circumstances,” the President noted approvingly, adding that capital flows had reversed in the third quarter of 2015 – a clear sign that corporates and funds are again starting to view the country as a focal point for new investment opportunities.
Even more happens behind the scenes at the forum, adds VTB Capital’s Podoinitsyna. Panels and public debates – including the one moderated by the prominent CNN journalist Richard Quest, which was the public highlight of the forum’s second day – are vital to imbuing the occasion with a sense of immediacy.
The behind-the-scenes meetings between foreign investors and Russian corporates are just as vital. “These one-on-ones are really important – in fact, they have a direct influence on all parties,” says Podoinitsyna. “For both Russian firms and international investors, these private sessions provide an indicator of how much demand there is from global funds and corporates in domestic companies and assets.
“Sometimes this year, we found ourselves running more than 100 meetings simultaneously every hour. Strong demand among international institutional delegates for time with one or more of our key executives at VTB Capital is one of the main reasons why RUSSIA CALLING! was so successful, and extended long into the third day.”
VTB Capital bravely decided to push ahead with last year’s event, despite the storm clouds hovering over the economy. This year, much of that gloom has dispersed, making it doubly important for the investment bank and its leading executives to send out a key message directly to the international investor community: that Russia is still fully open to business.
“We wanted to show the world that Russia is an integral player in the global business and financial community, and that no matter how big the challenges, it is in everyone’s interests to work together to continue to build, develop and profit from a strong Russian economy,” says VTB Capital’s Podoinitsyna.
Having spent the last seven years turning VTB Capital from a new operation into Russia’s most powerful and globalised investment bank, the next step is about buildings on those gains.
“It’s not just about developing our business, but about creating a new business environment for us and for Russia – and communicating that to the world,” says Podoinitsyna. “Our products and our ability to create tailor-made solutions for any scenario ensure that we will continue to meet our clients’ expectations, and our own shareholders’ expectations, in every market.
“Building for the future also means adapting to changing market conditions, and in ensuring that the products we provide are the ones that our customers really need,” she adds. “That means adapting to ensure that we are working arm-in-arm with our customers, whether they are operating in Asia, Europe, the US, Africa, or Latin America.
“Our hope is that the global economic situation will improve, and that we can keep on playing an integral commercial part in that process. Continuing to develop our business around the world, and communicating the strength of our brand to international investors and corporate clients, is as vital to our future as is the current and future success of our annual RUSSIA CALLING! investment forum.”