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The bank has four legs ...
- Sergei Alexandrovich, you came to your post about a year ago. Are you a “successor” or a “reformer”?
- All together, but rather the first than the second. It was easy to achieve continuity, because I was the first deputy chairman of the Asia-Pacific Bank, I worked from the very beginning of our project, supervised the branch network. And the branches for us are the first principle, the whole main business is done there. Therefore, we have preserved the continuity, but have set the course for further development.
- You open branches even in the smallest cities. To what level do you come up with such a "dive into the backwoods"?
- Is it really possible to keep full-fledged branches there economically?
- Forms of presence are different, starting from a small point where a loan officer simply sits and grants consumer loans. In another case, he also provides cash services. There are full-fledged standard departments serving individuals and legal entities, and most of them are with us. One regional center is located in each subject, as a rule, the largest in terms of area, it employs, in addition to staff serving and attracting clients, and the so-called “superstructure” - accountants, lawyers, economic security service…. The list of tariffs also depends on the conditions and location of the point of sale of banking products. Only the Moscow office differs somewhat from all the others, but this is a common thing - it’s not for nothing that they say that “Moscow is not Russia”. And we have a single business model.
- Do you have to close some branches as unprofitable?
- The year for the banking sector in Russia turned out to be, one can say, “turning and fateful”. What adjustments did this make to plans for the future?
- Adjustments were made taking into account the current situation - the reason for the whole complex of events that began last year, long explanations are not required. We have revised some of our global plans and are now implementing a number of new strategic initiatives. First of all, we take into account the requirements of the Central Bank as a regulator in the sphere of consumer lending. But on the whole, all this quite adequately fits into the logic of our development. At one time we started with a fairly simple - consumer loans, then started working with corporate clients. Then in retail there was a VIP-direction, and then it was time to actively engage in services and products focused on small and medium-sized businesses. Accordingly, now there are two directions that we intend to strengthen. This is working with VIP-clients in the retail segment and working with small businesses. You see, if earlier, when we just started the project, we had "one leg" - only retail. Then there were two, then the third and fourth grew back.
-I can not help remembering the song of NEP times - about a cat, which also has "four legs" and a long tail in addition. But about the "touch it is not possible" big doubts: everyone can touch us, despite the "small growth" or, conversely, a big ...
As for the actions of the Central Bank, the work in accordance with anti-laundering legislation is absolutely the right choice of direction. The only question is how to make such actions, what kind of information support they should have, and with what measures it is possible to mitigate the consequences of "shock therapy" for bona fide market participants, which are still the majority. Although it is always better to fight not with the investigation, but with the root cause of any violations.
"If you risk your own, your blood, you will inevitably become fearful." Customers are no exception. After the first reviews of licenses, they were ready to take money from any bank and "transfer to a safe place." Is there not too much outflow of your clients to large state-owned banks, for example, VTB or Sberbank? And than you can keep them?
- Undoubtedly, the actions of the CBRF were not reflected in the market in the best way. But we must understand that in some cases the regulator simply has no other way out. When the first reviews of licenses took place, we made additional efforts to maximize the information about our customers and even their ratings and ratings. We have become more open compared to previous years precisely in order to reduce the nervousness that was felt by our customers and the market in general. And I believe that we were able to achieve this. Our approach to compliance with anti-laundering legislation has always been quite rigid, so there is no reason to change our position.
We can keep our customers the same as before - reliability, stability, and a reasonable attitude. We have our competitive advantages. Today, we are the bank №1 among the multi-regional banks of the country. Naturally, every region has its own financial structures, we are compelled to compete with them both in speed of decision-making and in the understanding of “local specifics”. As you can see, it usually works out. An additional impetus to all of us is given by Sberbank, which is present throughout Russia. Given that he has recently been reformed and changed, this is a good reason not to lose pace too.
- As a promising direction for ATB, you called the work with small business. Is the bank now able to lower interest rates for this category of customers? And is it possible in practice to make these loans "affordable", as state officials constantly say?
- The European Union and the United States are threatening Russia with the application of economic sanctions. After a stir around the possible departure of "VISA" and "Mastercard" from our market, the question arose what will happen to our banks and their customers in this case. Do you assess possible risks, and what is the worst thing that can happen in the banking market due to sanctions?
- I think that business is a more serious argument than politics. I am sure that agreements will be reached, because not only Russia has a need for VISA and Mastercard cards, but for them our market is extremely important, leaving it unprofitable for anyone. Russia is sufficiently tightly integrated into the world community, it is impossible to mechanically "close its borders" for it. As far as I know, international development institutions (for example, the EBRD or our shareholder IFC), despite everything, continue to look at investment projects on the territory of the Russian Federation and are ready to invest in its economy. I think that the measures that large banks, under the pressure of their governments, have taken against Russia, were mostly "point-like". Everyone understands perfectly that it is impossible to stop settlements between our and foreign banks, block accounts ... Europe will not be able to transfer payments for energy, we will stop supplying them - will Western countries remain without gas? Absurd. A complete blockade of Russia in the modern world is impossible.
- What difficulties, in your opinion, may the creation of a national payment system face? Does China have a similar experience?
- In principle, this is organized fairly quickly and not too difficult. Russian banks will issue payment system cards, customers will soon get used to using it, not just the usual "VISA" and "Mastercard". China Union Pay also works. But for settlements abroad, the Russian card system will have to conclude contracts with major banks in foreign countries, and this will take a long time. This payment system for a long time remained purely local - "Chinese", until the system of interaction was built and agreements were reached on servicing the holders of these cards outside of China and issuance of these plastic cards in foreign banks.
And the second point: what kind of dependence are we willing to accept? In the event of the organization of its payment system, it will be necessary to sign agreements, including with American and European banks, so that these cards are serviced outside of Russia. And most likely, with the worsening of relations between countries, the Russian system can set the same requirements as we do with VISA and Mastercard. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is better to create your payment system, and thus to provide yourself with additional room for maneuver.
- ATB is based in the Far East, Europe is far from you, but China is close. How do you cooperate with Chinese banks now, and what can the recent signing of a number of important state agreements between Russia and China during the visit of President Vladimir Putin to Beijing contribute to?
- Most of the border between Russia and China passes through the territories of the constituent entities in which the Asia-Pacific Bank is located. Our head office is in Blagoveshchensk, where Russia is on one side of the Amur River, and on the other there are already Chinese cities. The main trade turnover here is with the PRC. This leaves a certain imprint on us: in many regions of the Far Eastern Federal District we are a bank that is one of the three leading banks in servicing foreign economic activity. At the very beginning of our activity, we opened correspondent accounts with major Chinese banks, we have very good partnerships. This is very beneficial for clients - the speed of money transfer is higher, the cost of payment orders is lower.
At the same time, Chinese banks are interested in stimulating the export of their equipment, equipment and other goods. And we are actively working with them in the direction of trade finance: for the client, we are building a deal in such a way that he gets financing from us, but at the expense of the foreign, in this case, Chinese bank. Thus, it is possible to significantly reduce the cost of borrowed funds as a result of the fact that we actually assume obligations to the bank and act as guarantor for the loan for our client. And rates in foreign banks are much lower than in Russia, this allows the client to save a lot on credit. Each transaction, of course, is structured separately.
- Does ATB accept deposits in RMB?
- Do the Chinese banks have a desire to enter the Russian market themselves (let only in the form of "daughters", as prescribed by our legislation)?
- They are eyeing the Russian market, they already have independent banks in our territory. But the Chinese always play for a long time and are sure that they have an eternity to solve, although "the journey of a thousand li starts with the first step".
- Does ATB participate in large infrastructure projects that are designed to make the Far East "a point of growth for the whole country"?
- Such projects are financed either by foreign banks, which have enough funds for long-term loans at low rates, or by Russia at the expense of Vnesheconombank. Our clients are involved in them not as the main operators, but as contractors. From this follows our role. None of the Russian banks, except VEB, has an opportunity to lend projects of this size. But, anyway, any construction in the Far East has to do with us. For example, ESPO-2 was built - companies were needed that cut down the forest. And these are our clients, a small business that has entered into relevant contracts. In ATB they have accounts, payroll cards. So any project that is beneficial for the region is also useful for ATB clients and for the bank itself.
- How do you build cooperation with regional authorities of the subjects of the Far Eastern Federal District, is there a "misunderstanding"?
- In one of your interviews you described in detail how difficult it is to overcome mutual fears of the bank and business. And what is in your understanding the honest word of a banker, the honest word of a businessman and is it possible to believe the honest word of state officials?
- I think that between the honest word of a banker or an honest word of an entrepreneur, the difference is small. This is the word you must keep. We formulated the business principle of ATB from the very beginning: either we keep promises, or we simply do not give them, we shake hands and disagree. Honesty in relationships is above all. Thanks to this rule, I think we were able to build good relations with customers. As for the honest word of officials, they are the same people. For example, I was very surprised by the recent communication with representatives of the Ministry of the Far East: how much people turned out to be mobile, quite a different format than I still imagined officials.
- But in it, apparently, many representatives of the modern business elite. You did go to business school Skolkovo. What did this give you in professional terms and for personal growth?
- I can not say that due to the training in Skolkovo, some fundamental metamorphosis took place in me, and our business immediately jerked forward with strides of leaps and bounds. At the same time, I clearly understand that after the training I changed. In many ways, the theory that we were taught in Skolkovo confirmed that I did a number of practical things correctly. At the same time, an understanding of what kind of mistakes must be avoided, so that in the future not to fill yourself with cones and shorten the path to the goal. But the most valuable in this training is that in Skolkovo there were a lot of business simulations, various practical cases and games. This allows you to change your system of views, look at things more widely and freely.
- And how did this training take place on the job?
“The training was modular — every month I took a vacation on the 3 day, drove into the campus, and for three working days plus two weekends we went to 8 in the morning to 10-11 in the evening, we gnawed on science. I had a choice - to study abroad or in Russia. For the first option I did not have enough free English. And in “Skolkovo” I got into an experimental group, which began my studies in Russian, pulled up a foreign language, and in the middle of the educational process I switched only to him. Professors lectured in English, but we were initially provided with translation. And then we comfortably joined the studies only in this language of international communication. In addition, we could conduct a dialogue with the most interesting speakers who gave lectures at our site, before each module a large amount of materials were sent in advance for familiarization, and as a result we received homework - something individual, then common. The group, by the way, was diverse - half were people from other regions and even countries. The most interesting thing was to carry out group tasks when it was necessary to negotiate and communicate across thousands of kilometers.
- ATB became a laureate of prestigious prizes in the field of banking. What is primary: do you work for your image or does it work for you?
-Mass media is a great force. But now they are clearly restricted by the Internet, social networks. As far as we know, you also do not shy away from them, judging by the rather sharp aphorisms that were posted on Twitter, or on Facebook records. How much can the manager of your level be open in social networks and what do they personally give to you?
- All social networks for me began in Skolkovo, we literally got infected with them. For people who come to the training module, and then immediately disperse, this communication scheme was ideal. Everyone chose something for their liking, I eventually left myself a Facebook. For me, this is an opportunity to see what is happening in the lives of my friends and subscribe to some news. A social network shortens my time to receive such information, plus it gives me the opportunity to convey to friends what is happening to me. And whether to be open and how much - the decision always depends on the individual.
- In some organizations, employees are strictly forbidden to use social networks and post any information about their work there. There were even cases of dismissal for intemperance in social networks. What are the rules for this in ATB?
- We do not regulate such things yet. But the question itself is ambiguous: often the comments and actions of employees, especially high-ranking ones, can be projected onto the organization in which they work. Therefore, of course, the balance must be found.
- In social networks everything is different from each other "at a comment distance". And you are not burdened by such accessibility for everyone, including any of the subordinates?
- When it was harder for you - now or at the beginning? And would you be able to build the same system if you conceived the ATB project now?
"Time matters." But the window of opportunity is always present. The main thing is that the right people gather at the right time in the right place. And they did the right thing. Actually, this is exactly what we did. I hope, it will turn out further.