Russian internet banking turning Japanese

Japanse internet bank, SBI Holdings, is set to purchase a controling stake in Russian Obibank, owned by IFC Metropol, to develop high-tech internet banking.

Kommersant reports that IFC Metropol president, Mikhail Slipenchuk, confirmed that a memorandum has been signed selling a controlling share in the authorized capital of Obibank to SBI.

“As soon as we receive permission from the Central Bank, we will formalize the sale of 25% plus one share to the Japanese side (SBI Holding) and the other 25% minus one share SBI Holding will purchase within a year.”

Slipenchuk, who owns the bank both directly and also through IFC Metropol, said that once the deal is completed, Obibank plans to use the experience of SBI Holding, which itself is strictly an online bank, in providing Russians with online banking services as well as for activity on the stock market.

However, Roman Vorobyov, Board Chairman of Russian International Bank, has reservations about the feasibility of internet banking in Russia.

“I doubt that a new player in Russian retail will be able to make any major breakthrough. The Russian population is not as financially literate as in Japan, and when using banking services people prefer live communication.”

General Director of Interfax, Mikhail Matovnikov, believes it’s possible it will be successful, but not until it becomes more established in Russia.

“High-tech internet banking, could and would be in demand in the two capitals, but only if the bank has a strong brand, which in Russia is just a buzz word.”

Maria Kalvarskaya, an analyst at KIT Finance, however, sees the coming of a new foreign player to Russia as a positive sign.

“It means that foreign investors are evaluating the perspectives of growth in Russia with great optimism than before.”

However, a mass influx of strong foreign investors is not expected in the near future, says Matovnikov.

“For the most part, the strongest investors are already here.”