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Sberbank claims a natural monopoly of habit

State-owned Sberbank, the former People’s Savings Bank, accounts for a quarter of Russia’s bank assets and half of deposits. Along with other banks in which the state has a stake, it is beginning to dominate the sector. Ben Aris spoke to Andrei Kazmin, the chairman of Sberbank’s board, who claims that the state connection does not give his bank an unfair advantage

Sberbank has been growing strongly. How are you going to maintain your recent growth? We are a universal bank, and we achieved this in 2000. In 1996 corporate clients represented 5% to 6% of all our liabilities. Now it is about 30%. It is a hard job to increase it further, but we want to try. The competition in the corporate banking sector is the most fierce. We published our new concept, accepted by shareholders in June. The first concept was quantitatively to become a universal bank, now it is qualitatively to become a universal bank. The main guideline of the new concept is the qualitative improvement of our products and services and the whole financial strategy of the bank is linked to this end.

You are increasing lending in the real economy. The government wants this. To what extent is the bank a government agent?

We do it not only because it is government policy. At present I must say that we have no special interests, no special advantages to [lend to the real economy].

Our share in the real sector is about one-third of all credits provided. So we have no real advantages, in taxation or anything else, regardless of what kind of credit you give - 15 days to some retail shop, or over several years to some huge plant with big risks - it doesn't matter.

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