Bank of Russia Considers Dropping Control Stake in Sberbank

Discussions are underway in Russia over whether the country’s central bank should continue to hold a controlling stake in the largest lender Sberbank, finance minister Anton Siluanov told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Last week, sources told the news agency that officials were in talks to transfer the central bank’s stake in Sberbank to another state entity, amid unease about the central bank’s role as both owner and supervisor.

“This issue is being discussed, as there is a conflict of interests,” said Siluanov, who also serves as first deputy prime minister. “The central bank also owns banks it has bailed out but it should not accumulate institutions it supervises.”

After bailing out three big private banking groups in 2017, the Bank of Russia remains an owner of Otkritie and Trust banks. It plans to sell both after they have fully recovered, expected in the early 2020s.

The central bank and the finance ministry are also at odds over how dividends should be distributed between the state budget and the central bank itself. Sberbank dividends make a significant contribution to the central bank’s overall profit.

Russia’s biggest bank paid 361.4 billion roubles ($5.83 billion) in dividends this year. VTB, the country’s second biggest lender, is controlled by the state via the Federal Agency for Property Management, so its dividends go directly to the budget.

Siluanov said the state budget envisages Sberbank’s dividends among the sources of its revenues in 2020-2022.

Two sources familiar with the central bank’s position and a state banker told Reuters the regulator wanted its stake in Sberbank to be sold to another state entity rather than transferred.

There is no agreement on whether such a sale should take place or what the price might be, the sources said. Based on Sberbank’s current market capitalization, the central bank’s 50% stake is worth 2.8 trillion rubles ($45.4 billion).