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Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank wants to transform into Big Tech company

Russia’s biggest lender Sberbank wants to transform into Big Tech company
In a major strategy shift, Sberbank, the most popular Russian lender, wants to build its own ecosystem going far beyond the world of finance and to be known not just as a bank, but also as a tech company.

During its first major online event, which was held on Thursday, Sberbank – now rebranded as Sber – presented a range of services and gadgets signaling it wants to go deeper into the tech sector. For example, the bank presented a family of “emotional” virtual assistants, called ‘Salute’, which will be incorporated into all of Sberbank’s devices and mobile apps.

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“We are the first and the only bank in the world which started to produce a smart device,” Sberbank CEO Herman Gref said. He noted that in order to become a company that can develop tech products, it had to go through a massive “transformation” that took five years.

There are three assistants in the Salute family, called Sber, Joy, and Athena. Unlike Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, the company is betting on the “emotional” features of the virtual assistants, as each has its own “temper,” allowing users to choose the one they find most suitable.

In addition to a logo change and new financial service features, like SberPay (an alternative to ApplePay and GooglePay), Sber also presented a TV streaming box called SberBox and a smart speaker called SberPortal. Both devices give access to a wide range of Sber services, while SberPortal, featuring gesture and voice recognition, will allow users to control other devices in the house.

“We’ve always had a chip on our shoulder, we believe we are a technology company with a banking licence,” Sberbank’s chief technology officer, David Rafalovsky, told Reuters ahead of the online conference.

In another step towards joining the Big Tech pantheon, Sber also launched a SmartMarket platform. The service is somewhat similar to App Store and Google Play, and will allow additional features for virtual assistants to enable businesses and entrepreneurs to produce their own apps. Russian airline S7 already has access to the platform and announced that it will create its own app on it.

The lender wants to boost revenues from the fast-growing non-financial sector by 20 to 30 percent, according to officials. This year, these services are expected to bring the bank around 70 billion rubles ($911 million), accounting for around five percent of all its operational revenues.

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