- I have often heard private bankers complain that the mortgage sector is an “unlevel” playing field. Do you agree that privately-owned and state banks are not competing at arm’s length?

- Dmitry Leus: I agree, but we should keep in mind that unequal conditions do not only prevail on the mortgage market. A big player such as Sberbank is able to provide SME lending at a rate of 8% p.a. whereas our average-weighted cost of funds ranges between 8.5 and 8.75%.

On the other hand, we have our own competitive advantages. We can afford to show flexibility when it comes to evidentiary requirements with regard to a client’s income. In addition, as a small bank, we can immediately adapt to sudden market changes. To turn around a big bank is something else. Our mortgage rates are therefore cheaper than Sberbank’s at the moment. This is because we were recently able to sell an important portfolio of securities, and have even excess liquidity now. These funds need to be invested somewhere, and this enables us to lend at lower margins.

Every international consultant will confirm that an ideal credit portfolio should have the following outlook: 50% of it should be invested into collateralized loans, 10-15% should be invested into consumer lending, or other high-yield credits, and 20-30% should be kept in treasury bonds or other safe-haven securities which can easily be sold or refinanced with the Central Bank.

- You have recently engaged in consumer lending. What has been your experience?

- Dmitry Leus: We had mortgage rates starting at 9.95% and noticed that some client agreed to these conditions. The average rate on the market is currently 10%. We can afford lower rates and have no plans to raise them because we dispose of sufficient liquidity. However, at some point we will nevertheless have to increase our rates, because the next wave of funding is likely to be more expensive. In any event, consumer loans are a good way of boosting our overall profitability

- There are many similar products on the market now. What is your competitive advantage?

- Dmitry Leus: The most important thing in consumer lending is a good organization of sales, in addition to a high-quality client service. For instance, our “New Year’s Loan” is designed for people who cannot afford to buy Christmas presents for their beloved ones. What counts for such clients is the speed at which the loan is issued. They are not bothered by the fact that they will have to pay a premium of RUB 200 per month. We can offer a quick service if the client has good scores and underwriting results. The first criterion is credit scores. Some lenders get satisfied with good scores and will mechanically award the loan. For us, scoring is just the first step, the second step being underwriting. We may not have the lowest rates on the market, but in order to keep default rates low we put quality over volume.

- Let’s return to funding. Is it correct to say that client deposits constitute about half of your liabilities?

- Dmitry Leus: Yes, we have more than RUB 9bn in deposits and an overall balance of RUB 18.5bn.

- At the same time, I understand you are not attracting clients by means of higher deposit rates. By which means do you attract them?

- Dmitry Leus: I have the impression that we have less and less people shopping around and going from bank to bank in search of the best interest rates.

- Well, I shop around...

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