News / Economy

    Russians See No Cause for Alarm in Crackdown on Shadow Banking

    The company logo of Master Bank is seen outside a branch in Moscow, Nov. 20, 2013.
    The company logo of Master Bank is seen outside a branch in Moscow, Nov. 20, 2013.
    Reuters
    The problems exposed in Russia's banking system by last week's collapse of mid-sized lender Master Bank are deep-rooted, but in contrast with banking failures of the past, there was no evidence this time of other banks' customers taking fright.
     
    That seems surprising to analysts, as the collapse has highlighted the difficulty of enforcing regulations against banks with strong political connections, and the widespread use of illegal payments to service Russia's large black economy.
     
    “Other banks are in the same situation as Master Bank, that's for sure,” said Alexander Lebedev, a media tycoon and banker. “Whether the central bank will have enough guts [to act] - let's wait and see.”
     
    The central bank withdrew the license of Master Bank on Wednesday, citing “large-scale dubious operations” and payment difficulties for clients and some other banks that used it to process card transactions.
     
    “We don't see any rise in the rates on the interbank market or on the government bond market, so it's a very local event,” said Maxim Osadchy, head analyst at BKF bank, in Moscow.
     
    The bank ranked as the 72nd largest lender by assets in a country which has more than 900 banks, but most are tiny. Even the size of Master Bank's operations for processing card payments, around $1.5 billion a month, was relatively small for a sector with assets totaling $1.7 trillion.
     
    New Psychology
     
    The relative calm that followed Master Bank's failure also reflects changes in the regulation of the sector and public confidence in recent years, said Richard Hainsworth, head of local ratings agency RusRating.
     
    He drew a distinction with banking crises in 1998, the year of Russia's cataclysmic financial crash, and 2004, when the failure of a small bank called Sodbiznesbank provoked deposit runs.
     
    Since then, the government has helped calm nerves with state-backed deposit insurance under which the government guarantees up to 700,000 roubles ($21,200) for each saver.
     
    “In 1998 there were fisticuffs outside the doors of banks,” he said. “That doesn't happen any more because people are confident they'll get their money back.”
     
    Hainsworth saw a greater similarity between the current incident and the failure of International Industrial Bank, a mid-sized bank that folded in 2010 after a long period of speculation about its shaky finances.
     
    “In both cases, the senior managers and owners of the bank had very strong connections with the political elite,” he said. “It wasn't that [Sergei] Ignatyev, the previous head of the central bank, was powerless. But he was constrained by the political conditions in which he was working,” continued Hainsworth.
     
    Igor Putin, a distant cousin of President Vladimir Putin, was on Master Bank's board. Russian commentators have also speculated over protection from officials in law-enforcement agencies. “Clearly there has been protection - a krysha [roof), as we put it,” said Lebedev.
     
    Although many analysts have praised the central bank's new governor, Elvira Nabiullina, for taking tough steps against Master Bank, some have questioned why it took so long.
     
    Russian police first announced a criminal investigation into Master Bank in April of last year. Since then, the bank not only took in more retail deposits, but also expanded its loans, which are now unlikely to be recovered.
     
    The central bank has said that in total, the bank has made around 20 billion roubles ($600 million) in loans to related parties, including its own shareholders.
     
    Master Bank's main owner, Boris Bulochnik, has not commented publicly since the bank's license was withdrawn. His whereabouts are unknown.
     
    Black Cash
     
    Another troubling issue highlighted by the Master Bank affair is the role of banks in servicing Russia's large shadow economy, analysts said.
     
    Police have accused the bank of illegal “encashment” of over 2 billion roubles, while the central bank has estimated the total volume of “dubious” encashment operations by the bank amounted to 200 billion roubles.
     
    “Encashment” refers to a practice whereby banks undertake transactions for clients using cash, rather than electronically, as required by law for large transactions.
     
    “So-called 'black cash' is used for bribes, for payment of wages, for evading taxes,” explained Osadchy, who estimates the annual volume of black cash transactions in Russia amounts to around $40 billion.
     
    Despite the scale of the problem, or perhaps because of it, it was unlikely that the withdrawal of Master Bank's license would lead to a wave of similar bank closures by the authorities, he said.
     
    “The fund for guaranteeing deposits isn't limitless,” Osadchy said. “I would even say that this system of black banking is too big to fail.”

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8812
    JPY
    USD
    112.18
    GBP
    USD
    0.6939
    CAD
    USD
    1.3961
    INR
    USD
    68.436

    Rates may not be current.