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Andrey Melnichenko, Founding chairman, MDM Bank, Moscow

To open a bank at any time is brave, especially in Russia. To have started trading in 1993 aged 23 while still at university, takes something special. Andrey Melnichenko studied physics at Moscow State University before starting up his own bank with four friends.

The bank - MDM - is one of the few Russian institutions with an international profile that is still afloat.

"Strange though it may seem, the impact of the financial crisis was quite positive," says Melnichenko. "Many niches were freed up so we could increase volumes. Competition fell away, which meant more opportunities. Profit in September-October 1998 doubled compared with the same period last year.

"We had losses in the financial crisis, but it was not a catastrophe. We estimate our losses at between $20 million and $25 million - only one-sixth of our capital. Most other Russian banks lost all they possessed and more."

Melnichenko and his three friends started trading in March 1993 under the name MDM Bureau, a financial company whose activities were limited to cash foreign exchange transactions. They obtained a banking licence in December that year. Before August 1995, the bank undertook little more than speculative trading, but in response to the then banking crisis began to build a customer base and to develop commercial banking activities.

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