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.
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 Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.