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Foreign banks - to buy or not to buy?

So far, the three western banks active in Kazakhstan have been a success. In order of appearance, ABN Amro, Citigroup and HSBC have turned tidy profits from lending at low rates to top state and corporate institutions. They now hold about 6.5% of the country's banking assets. Is it time to expand into retail?

Douglas Kennedy of ABN Amro doesn't think so. Even though "people are desperate to take Kazakh risk at the moment", he says things are fine the way they are. "We continue to be leaders in taking Kazakh corporates to the debt capital markets," he says. The Dutch bank has a branch in Atyrau, the oil capital. This year, it will be opening the first western bank branch in Astana, the capital since 1995.

Ray Webber, head of HSBC Kazakhstan, has the same view. "We came here five years ago and we now have assets of $180 million," he says. "I'm sure some purchasing will happen," he adds, but as for HSBC, "we're still getting comfortable with the country. It takes a while to establish a track record, and it will take a while before we start lending to small entrepreneurs, for instance."

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