The billionaire businessman behind one Russia’s largest banks has revealed his interest in setting up in the UK.
Although listed on the London Stock Exchange, Tinkoff Bank is Russian-focussed and the second largest credit card issuer in the country. It was set up in 2006 by its flamboyant chairman, Oleg Tinkov, and is Russia’s sole online-only bank.
Tinkov was coy about the chances of whether or not an online-only model could be replicated outside of Russia when speaking a research team from Russian rival Sberbank.
“I don’t think about whether this model can work in other markets, Russia is a huge market, 140m people, but we could look at the UK, as continental Europe is over-regulated,” he said.
The UK market is a hard nut to crack, as many challenger banks will testify. But as the son of a Siberian miner, Tinkov’s work ethic – in face of competition – has stood him in good stead.
However, he was somewhat dismissive of his local competitors.
We have just two retail banking competitors in Russia: Sberbank and Alfa Bank. The rest are simply rubbish in my opinion.
One country Tinkov was gushing about, especially when it comes to banking and technological innovation, was America.
“I think Apple [Pay] will trample over any payment competition based on its brand. It is simply the best brand on this planet, and the user experience with Apple products is unmatched. They will eat a huge piece of that cake,” he said.
Nevertheless, he was relieved that some of the other US tech giants were not getting involved banking.
If Google decides seriously to launch a credit or transactional business tomorrow, they ultimately could become the biggest bank in the world. They know far more about consumers than any bank.
Thank God that Google and Facebook are not really interested in seriously developing financial services.
Tinkov originally made his money in the brewery trade. He capitalised on the lack of good quality beer in Russia and aggressively marketed products. His bumper payday came when he sold Tinkov Breweries to Belgium’s Inbev for €167m in 2005.
He invested part of his fortune launching Tinkoff Credit Systems, which became Tinkoff Bank in 2015. Among a number of innovative strategies selected from the start was to controversially do-away with cash machines.
Smart and cool
Despite his company being founded on developing the latest technology for banking sector – 60 per cent of the company’s staff are “IT people” – Tinkov was less animated about the raft of fintech companies springing up.
“It is too early to be excited about technologies like blockchain, or digital currencies. There is lots of speculation now, people want to look smart and cool, but let the technology evolve and then we will see what we can do with it.
“Too many fintech startups are built to sell to big banks, there are simply too many mobile applications out there,” he said.