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VTB: Primed to be a champion, performing as an also-ran

VTB’s ambition is to be a leading universal bank in Russia, with a strong balance of revenues from its retail, corporate and banking arms. But does it have the wherewithal to achieve those lofty goals? Guy Norton reports from Moscow.

Buildout: VTB’s new headquarters in Moscow reach for the sky, but its banking ambitions remain grounded

SOMETIMES LIFE CAN be cruel. When you’re hot you’re hot, when you’re not you’re not. Certainly VTB, Russia’s number two banking player, knows all about that feeling. In May 2007, it was unmistakeably hot, raising an $8 billion-strong war chest through an initial public offering that tapped into bull market sentiment towards Russia and its banking sector at home and abroad. The rapturously received IPO was a crucial milestone on VTB’s route from being a Soviet-era foreign trade bank to a fully fledged universal bank, boasting leading market shares in the corporate, investment and retail banking sectors in Russia. In retrospect, VTB’s IPO was probably the high-water mark for international investor sentiment towards Russia’s work-in-progress financial services sector. Perhaps more important, it was seen as the flagship Russian privatization of 2007 – not for nothing was it widely dubbed the "People’s IPO", enabling ordinary Russians to tap into the country’s seemingly miraculous economic recovery from financial bankruptcy in 1998.

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