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17 июня 2013

New Russia's First Commercial Bank Turns 25

A. USTAEV: «Viking Bank is a kind of a «family doctor» who comes to the aid in solving the problems of its patients»

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The oldest Russian bank, Viking Bank, has been devoted to its development strategy for over 25 years working in the real economy. In an interview with NBJ, permanent chairman of the board of Viking Bank Alexey USTAEV tells how the bank managed to overcome all the crises and hardships thanks to its own financial security system.

NBJ: Alexey Yakovlevich, Viking is the first commercial bank in the new Russia: its history reaches back 25 years. How was the bank established? What was laid as the basis of its activities?

A. USTAYEV: In August 1988, the period of transformation of sectors state banks into commercial banks began in the Soviet Union. It was then that Russia's first private commercial bank Viking was established as an experiment in Leningrad. License No. 2 was issued to the Bank (the first one was issued to a bank in Kazakhstan, which went bankrupt in the 1990s). That was the starting point of the era of formation of the new Russian banking system. We set ourselves the goal of working with the real sector of economy. From the very beginning, the business of Viking Bank has been based on the principle of integrated approach and corporate services. Working with the real sector of economy was unpopular at the time, because it did not bring quick money, but required a lot of hard work under changing legislation. Such conditions required much labor and specialists, which were not available on the market in sufficient quantities. In Viking Bank, we assembled a team of professionals from various industries that was able to help the "red" directors to adapt in the transition period. That team included such statesmen as A. A. Kurkov (at different times - head of the chief directorate of KGB and MVD in Leningrad), V. P. Khalansky (founder of the modern banking system of St. Petersburg), and other prominent persons. That was the basis that allowed us and our partners to overcome the economic crises. In the context of development and establishment of the new Russia, 25 years is not just an anniversary date, but a whole era, which the bank has got through bearing responsibility not only for itself, but also for its clients and partners.

NBJ: The Bank's clients mention the special approach and uniqueness of Viking Bank. What does it consist of?

A. USTAEV: Back in the 1990s, Viking Bank implemented its own financial security system for corporate clients - industrial enterprises in order to protect the business from external risks. For this purpose, a twotier model was established, which included a professional team of financial specialists employed by Viking Bank, as well as specially created and outsourced highly specialized partner companies providing legal, economic, tax, consulting services, IT support for business, and ensuring the enterprises' economic security and insurance, as well as monitoring of the borrower not only at the loan disbursement stage, but in the course of their performance of the business plan in the changing market environment. Perhaps, this is the difference between Viking Bank and the other credit institutions.

NBJ: Could you please tell us about the peculiarities of the work in the 1990s, as well as about the secret of Viking Bank's longevity and stability?

A. USTAEV: At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, inflation and money depreciation were measured in hundreds percent, and interest on bank loans was even higher. During this period, lawlessness and absence of control reigned in the banking community as well. On the one hand, the newly minted commercial banks transformed from the state banks were giving out loans at high interest rates without formally bothering to monitor the borrowers. On the other hand, in the pursuit of easy profit lenders willingly effected speculative, high-risk security transactions, which inevitably led to the loss of liquidity, months-long pay pauses, decline in production and, as a consequence, bankruptcy of both companies and banks. Against this background, from the moment of its establishment, Viking identified the main principles of activity - active work with the real sector of the economy and complete abandonment of risky transactions. The suc­cess of any business is its positive reputation, and a bank without reputation cannot stand for long, if at all. Viking has never been involved in dubious schemes or engaged in cashing and money laundering. Thanks to this strategy we have survived. This is the secret of our stability and longevity.

NBJ: Due to what medium banks can nowadays compete with state-owned banks and large private banks?

A. USTAEV: Medium regional banks differ from large, first of all, because of possibility of creating a relationship of trust with customers, the ability to understand their needs. We have the possibility to approach each customer individually. If the customer does not fit some parameters, for example, those of the tight credit programs of a large bank, they stop cooperation. We are less bureaucratic, we have the ability to analyze the customer's story, notice the potential and offer not only credit services, but also the complete corporate service.

NBJ: Which areas of the Bank's business are you paying the most attention to, and which ones are you planning to develop in the medium term? How do you improve the technological base?

A. USTAEV: In its time, Viking Bank was one of the first in St. Petersburg to have begun offering its own Internet payment system "Viking Internet Payment System" (VIP-System), and not only to corporate customers, but also to individuals. We are increasing the number of services provided via Internet banking, mobile services, developing the Remote Banking for both corporate clients and individuals. In 2013, the bank has been successfully selected for the right to use the surety of the Fund of Small and Medium Business Credit Assistance for corporate debt financing purposes. In the medium term, we are also going to continue developing the retail services - credit cards, money transfers using modern Internet technologies, doing our best for the clients to feel comfortable to work with us.

Today, as before, we pay closest attention to the real sector of the economy. One of our business priorities is comprehen­sive corporate customer services. Viking Bank is a kind of a "family doctor" who comes to the aid in solving the problems of its patients.

NBJ: According to the bankir.ru internet portal ratings, Viking Bank is in the top ten best employer banks. How would you comment on this fact?

A. USTAEV: We have always paid great attention to the creation of a professional team, because skilled personnel are the driving force of a bank. Many of our employees have worked for Viking Bank for more than 15 and even 20 years. A number of lending institutions of St. Petersburg were or are headed by our former employees. We understand our social responsibility and, therefore, we are trying to create decent working conditions for our staff.

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interviewed by Sofia Moroz
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