Russian banks: Joining up the dots
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Russian banks: Joining up the dots

In the wake of the August 1998 financial crisis, Russia’s regions became a banking wasteland. But on the back of this decade’s strong economic growth the regions are seeing a financial services renaissance. Guy Norton reports.

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TO SAY THAT the modern Russian banking industry has had a chequered history ranks as a gross understatement. In the freewheeling early 1990s the Bank of Russia seemingly handed out licences like confetti with the result that the country boasted – if that’s the right word – more than 3,000 banks, more than five times the number in the whole of western Europe. To the casual observer it looked as if the only qualifications needed to hold a banking licence were the ability to sign your name and the money to pay the registration fee. ‘No previous experience required’ could have been the appropriate tagline in any advertisement for a bank employee. Given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it now looks obvious that such a slipshod system would only end in tears, as indeed it did in August 1998, when the Russian government’s finances collapsed and eviscerated the capital bases of many of the country’s banks. Fear and loathing seems an appropriate summation of the ordinary Russian’s view of the country’s banking system at that point.

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