Vladislav Voitsekhovich, MD & CEO of ‘SBI of Russia’ Speaks at IIM L

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Mr. Vladislav Voitsekhovich, India MD & CEO of Sberbank – Russia’s biggest commercial bank, addressed the MBA (IPMX) Class at IIM Lucknow as part of the Leadership Talk Series organised by the students. Sberbank is the largest bank in Russia and much like India’s State Bank of India serves customers in some of the remotest corners of the country. 

Sberbank, headquartered in Moscow, was founded in 1841 and as of 2012 was the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the third largest in Europe. Today Sberbank has roughly 17,000 branches in Russia and approximately 90,000 ATM’s and self-service kiosks. 

Sberbank serves customers in some of the remotest corners of Russia with the assistance of helicopters: it transports cash and batteries to ATM’s in remote areas in the tundra so that caribou deer shepherds can withdraw cash

Vladislav Voitsekhovich, MD and CEO of the Sberbank India was at IIM Lucknow to speak to MBA (IPMX) students.

During his talk, Voitsekhovich detailed the evolution of the bank over time and shared how the bank was similar to India’s State Bank of India (SBI) in the way that it serves customers in some of the remotest corners in India, going as far as providing banking services with the assistance of helicopters: Sberbank transports cash and batteries to ATM’s in remote areas in the tundra so that caribou deer shepherds can withdraw cash.  Voitsekhovich remarked that as opposed to the common perception, the term ‘helicopter money’ has its roots in this banking practice and has nothing to do with former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who acquired the nickname ‘Helicopter Ben’ on Wall Street for the Quantitative Easing policies of the Fed in the aftermath of the financial crisis that began in 2008

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Vladislav Voitsekhovich, MD & CEO, Sberbank with the MBA Class at IIM Lucknow

Voitsekhovich drew frequent comparisons between Sberbank and SBI, calling Sberbank ‘SBI of Russia’. Sberbank and SBI share many common traits and characteristics as the two largest banks in their respective countries. However, Sberbank is a new entrant in India and it sees its strength in its Russian origin, which the bank believes gives it an advantage in handling Indo-Russian trade.

Voitsekhovich said that the flagship business of Sberbank is the payment gateway, which allows Indian and Russian companies to engage in trade in national currencies of India and Russia – Rupees and Roubles. Even though the volumes of trade are currently not as large as that with China, after a certain threshold, settlements in INR/RUB will enormously ease trade and stimulate rapid growth. In this area, Sberbank is expanding its tie-ups and bilateral limits with Indian banks.

Voitsekhovich said he was very optimistic about Make in India as it promises to offer a great opportunity for Sberbank clients’ Indian operations and that it could spur growth in Indo-Russian collaboration beyond the military sector into new high-potential areas such as Information technology, tourism, and agriculture.

He pointed out how India, despite being the largest producer of sugarcane, lags behind Cuba, Thailand and Brazil in the export of sugarcane to Russia because India fails to match the prices offered by the competing countries. India needs access to more clients and Sberbank is helping by providing access to its client base.

Voitsekhovich also briefly touched upon the New Development Bank (NDB), more commonly known as the ‘BRICS bank’, and said that he did not believe in the concept of the NDB until the appointment of Mr. K V Kamath as its first MD & CEO. Having worked with Mr. Kamath at ICICI Bank, and having witnessed Mr. Kamath’s leadership, actions and results-orientation, his appointment changed Voitsekhovich’s view from skeptical to highly optimistic.