The Russian banking system is highly politicized, regulated, and subject to the intervening whims of the Central Bank of Russia Federation. It is also very concentrated at the top: according to our research, Sberbank and VTB have more net assets than the next eight banks combined. After these two giants, there are four other banks with total assets exceeding $158 billion: Gazprombank, Alfa Bank, PromSvyaz Bank, and Otkritie Financial Corporation Bank.
In the years following the global recession, Russian banks kept making headlines for all of the wrong reasons: Russian banks lost an estimated $5 billion over the Ukrainian crisis, when the U.S. and EU nations imposed sanctions directly targeting the Russian financial sector. Russia's central bank pursued inflationary policies, which led to confidence issues with lenders. A Russian recession in 2014–15 only exacerbated matters.
Sberbank (SBER) was founded in 1841 in Moscow, and it has always been a joint publicly owned and government-owned institution. The Central Bank of Russia owns 50% of SBER plus one share, and public investors the rest.
Sberbank employs about 293,000 people and has about $443 billion in assets. It ranked 31st in the Banker's Top 1000 World Banks in 2018, and No. 1 in Europe.
Sberbank was roiled in controversy over funding and deposit decisions in Ukraine in 2014. The Security Service of Ukraine accused Sberbank of transferring 45 million Ukraine Hryvnia (about $4 million at then-prevailing exchange rates) to terrorists fighting for Russian occupation.
Another majority state-owned bank, VTB was founded as Vneshtorgbank in 1990. The Russian government owns nearly 61% of VTB, and the rest is listed on the Moscow exchange. VTB is registered in Saint Petersburg.
Despite being the second-largest bank in Russia by a considerable margin, VTB is actually closer to third than first. Estimates put Sberbank at two times larger. VTB does claim some impressive subsidiaries, including top-10 Russian banks such as VTB24 and Bank of Moscow.
Gazprombank was founded in 1990 by natural-gas producer Gazprom (GAZP) to provide banking services to other gas-industry enterprises. While it retains a large focus on oil and gas, GSB now services other sectors in the Russian economy.
Gazprombank is the third-largest bank in the Russian Federation at roughly half the size of VTB in terms of total assets. The company employs around 13,500 people and is headquartered in Moscow.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed severe sanctions against Gazprombank, forbidding any American citizens from providing new financing.
Self-described as a "dedicated retail subsidiary of VTB Group," VTB24 emphasizes banking services for small businesses and individuals. This includes basic checking and savings deposits, auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards. The bank has a network of nearly 600 branches across major Russian cities.
Bank Otkritie Financial Corp.
The largest privately owned bank in Russia is Bank Otkritie Financial Corp., formerly NOMOS-Bank. Like so many Russian banks, it got its start in the early years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has since accumulated more than $18 billion in assets.
Bank Otkritie is a full-service bank headquartered in Moscow. It offers retail, corporate and SME banking. It is owned by the Otkritie FC Banking Group.
Bank of Moscow
A subsidiary of VTB, the Bank of Moscow was originally set up in 1995 as a joint-stock commercial bank with the Russian government. By 2010, talks were in place to privatize it. VTB acquired a majority stake in February 2011, though not without some controversy over the selection process.
Traditionally, the Bank of Moscow supports economic and social programs in the city. It also owns several foreign subsidiaries and has more than 100,000 corporate clients.