By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian arm of U.S. bank Citi <C.N> said on Wednesday it planned to reduce the number of its offices in the country, but expected to do more business this year.
Foreign banks in Russia have been under pressure since Western countries began imposing sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Many foreign banks were forced to significantly cut their exposure to Russia.
But as some of the banks adjusted to the new circumstances, they started to grow in fields not covered by the sanctions.
Michael Berner, a Citi Russia board member and its consumer business manager, said on Wednesday the bank would reduce its number of branches from 22 to 15 in Russia by the end of the year to try to further move its client-base online, the Interfax news agency reported.
Citi said in a presentation on Wednesday its Russian assets under management had grown 24 percent last year, with the number of retail client accounts and deposits up 8 percent year on year.
“We think these results are positive and we are planning to keep that same growth rate this year,” Berner said.
The Russian banking market is dominated by large, state-owned companies. They make up almost 70 percent of Russian bank assets and five large banks control 60 percent of the assets, according to the World Bank.
Citi Russia, which has been in the country since 1992 and is its 21 largest bank by assets, said the competition from state-owned players would not affect its business.
“Do we feel the strengthening of state banks? No, because we have a clearly-defined strategy and a clearly-defined segment in which we operate,” said Maria Ivanova, president of Citi Russia.
Russia’s central bank has said the country needs to increase competition in the financial sector.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Mark Potter)