* Igor Kim has bought up Russian units of foreign banks
* Expobank is already present in Latvia
* Now focused on corporate lending but is open to new ideas
By Katya Golubkova and Oksana Kobzeva
MOSCOW, May 22 Igor Kim snapped cast-off assets
from foreign banks pulling out of Russia and now the banker says
he wants to expand into Europe.
Kim, 47, emerged with his partners as an asset consolidator
after the global crash of 2008 forced Western banks to downsize,
buying the Russian commercial banking units of Barclays
, WestLB, Morgan Stanley and Santander.
"We are looking at different assets, including in Central
and Eastern Europe," Kim told Reuters exclusively this week.
"I don't buy minority stakes. To meet professional
challenges and ambitions, controlling stakes are interesting."
Kim bought Expobank from Barclays for less than book value
in 2011, and it now has opened a unit in Latvia, a European
Union member state that attracted increasing Russian financial
flows as Cyprus, a favoured offshore haven, teetered.
Russian investors featured among those moving money out of
Cyprus before its banking system was shut down in March, ahead
of an EU-ordered bailout that imposed heavy losses on large
depositors at the country's two main banks.
Kim remains one of the most secretive Russian bankers
despite being in business for 20 years. In the boom years of the
2000s he built up the URSA banking group that merged with MDM
Bank in 2008.
That partnership did not work out, however, and Kim left
after a couple of years due to disagreements with MDM's Sergei
Kim started over and, in addition to Expobank, he is a
shareholder in Orient Express, a consumer lender with a strong
presence in Siberia and Far East.
Orient Express, ranked among Russia's top-30 banks by
assets, bought Morgan Stanley's mortgage bank and Santander's
consumer lending unit in 2010. WestLB and Expobank operate
Kim, born in Kazakhstan, said that he was buying assets from
foreign banks as there is more confidence there will be "no
skeletons" in balance sheets.
"Prices across the market were quite low, furthermore I
thought there wouldn't be 'skeletons in closets'... I buy when I
am fully confident that these skeletons are being taken out or
if there is adequate provisioning," he said.
The price paid for each of foreign banks' assets weren't
publicly disclosed. "As for now in my practice, deals are
happening at below capital but it is hard to predict how it will
change in a future," Kim said.
Kim confirmed he had bid for Absolut Bank, the Russian unit
of Belgian financial group KBC. An agreement was
reached to sell Absolut to the pension fund of the Russian state
railways, but the deal has not closed yet.
Forbes Magazine last estimated Kim's wealth at $500 million
"I'M JUST A BANKER"
State-controlled Sberbank dominates the Russian
market, and has a balance sheet 60 times bigger than Orient
Express's 223 billion roubles ($7.1 billion) in assets.
That doesn't bother Kim, who says the state banks are "like
the weather, why should I complain?"
Expobank returned to profit under Kim, posting earnings of
1.3 billion roubles ($42 million) last year. Return on equity at
23 percent just shy of Sberbank's impressive 24.2 percent.
Expobank more than doubled corporate lending to almost 14
billion roubles, while retail lending - into which bigger banks
are expanding - added 12 percent to 3.7 billion roubles.
"As for retail business I have my investment in Orient
Express, why do I need another similar project? We are
developing our corporate business now. If it is profitable to
buy a retail bank tomorrow, we will buy it," he said.