Sberbank optimistic over universal card project

Sberbank, Russia's largest lender, expects cash flow from its plastic cards to grow by 50% once a new universal identity and payment card system is launched in 2012.

Sberbank, together with Uralsib bank and Ak Bars Bank, is set to launch the “Unicard” project which will combine social security and banking services. This means people's welfare benefits will be on the banks books, giving a boost to their deposit base.

In addition, it is a step towards a non-cash based society called the universal card project.

Russians will be able to draw pensions, pay taxes and shop with one card. Banks in turn would have access to increased funds from the state budget making use of generated cash flows.

Viktor Orlovsky, Vice President at Sberbank, expects the move will result in increased operations.

“If the project is successful we hope to see a 50% increase in turnover on cards. And, of course, we plan to issue credit applications along with these cards, providing loans and microloans to pay for services.”

At the moment, most bank cards in Russia have either the Visa or MasterCard logo on them.

However, the global giants are not taking part in the Russian universal card project for reasons of national security, project participants say.

The question remains whether or not the new Russian card will demonstrate real competition to the payment systems that have already taken root in the country's wallets.

In order to compete with Visa or Mastercard, the future Russian plastic cards will have to be accepted abroad, observers point out. That is not planned at the moment.

Previous attempts to launch national credit cards in Russia have proved unsuccessful, with Director General at Rusrating Richard Hainsworth saying that the underdevelopment of business organization on various levels in the country leaves almost no chance for national card systems to face foreign competition.

“It is quite possible that a local card system couldn’t work because of the structure of the tax system and legislation, whereas Visa and Mastercard don’t have to handle those sorts of problems on a global basis. So, they are able to provide to Russia cheaper products because Russian bureaucracy makes it hard for Russian companies to compete.”

However, Sberbank says, it is now closely cooperating with international payment systems in technology for the new card, as in the future they may become project shareholders, providing operations abroad.