HSBC eyes Russian retail bank expansion

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The Independent Online

HSBC appears poised to wade into the one big developing market it has so far steered clear of for fear of getting burnt: Russia.

Although the London-headquartered bank has had a presence in Moscow since 2000, it has largely confined itself to servicing corporate clients, and has watched from the sidelines as other foreign banks have rolled out ambitious retail networks.

But according to Moscow-based banking sources, it is now prepared to abandon that cautious strategy and will unveil plans to enter the retail banking market before the end of this year.

A spokesman in London said yesterday that he could not comment on a possible announcement, but Chris Barry, an HSBC executive in Moscow, has been quoted as confirming the step change in strategy.

Mr Barry, who has 28 years of experience in retail banking, arrived in Moscow earlier this month after occupying a senior position in HSBC's retail banking division in Saudi Arabia.

His appointment is being seen as another sign that HSBC is ready to dip its toes into Russia's burgeoning retail market.

Reports suggest that the bank will offer a full range of retail services, from standard loans to mortgages, competing with the likes of America's Citibank and Austria's Raiffeisen Bank.

It remains unclear, however, whether HSBC will start from scratch and try to grow organically, or buy itself a head start by acquiring mid-sized Russian banks that already have a branch network.

HSBC's former chairman Sir John Bond gave an interview last year when he was still in the position in which he said that Russia was constantly on the company's agenda and that it was keen to grow organically if and when it entered the market.

HSBC Russia currently employs around 100 people.