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Russian Banks Step Up Debt Collection Activity

Debt collection efforts for overdue corporate bank loans have seen a sharp increase in activity rates. This is compared to March of this year when President Medvedev let rip into lenders who were refusing to accept payment arrangements for “corporate selfishness.”

With an increase of almost 250% on the amount of debt outstanding in March rising from 26 billion rubles ($792 million) to 91 billion rubles ($2.8 billion), it is no wonder that the leading banks in the country are increasing their debt collection output. The figures shown were reported by Kommersant on Monday who cited data provided by the Moscow Arbitration Court.

The bank with the largest amount of outstanding debt is Alfa Bank, who are using debt recovery methods to try and recoup some 26.4 billion rubles. Just shy of Alf Bank are VTB, with an amount owed of 26.1 billion rubles, although if it were included with its retail banking division, VTB-24, it could over an additional billion rubles to that figure.

Nomos Bank, MDM and Sberbank round out the top five. Bank of Moscow, seeking just over 100 million rubles, is at the bottom of the list.

When President Medvedev gave his speech back in March, he said “We can’t sacrifice the future of entire enterprises and the employment of many thousands of workers to satisfy the ambitions of individual lending institutions. It’s time to end corporate selfishness.”

At the time it was thought that the comment was aimed at Alfa Bank who are the countries largest private lender and were, at the time, involved in a legal struggle with companies that are part of Basic Eelement.

The Banks, however, insist that they are acting within the law and have no alternative means to recover back their debt. In an e-mail statement, a spokesperson or Alfa Bank said “We are a 100 percent private bank, and we receive all our loans from the Central Bank and VEB on certain conditions and at a certain rate of interest. Therefore, the cash we loan to our clients is mostly borrowed and can be demanded back by our creditors at any time.”

Alfa Bank’s shareholders recently gave it $320 million in capital, which makes the lender highly accountable to them, the lender said. “If some of our clients are in trouble, we are ready for an open dialogue,” the bank said.

Other banks said they rush to recover loans in order to avoid being taken advantage of by debtors.

Some debtors prefer to have their companies liquidated, which allows them to be in control of the bankruptcy process, said Irina Gordeyeva, vice president at Nomos Bank.

“Banks are aware of such behavior and try to get a court ruling as soon as possible in order to control the bankruptcy process and prevent the debtor from divesting assets,” she said.

Nevertheless, stringent loan repayment policies during difficult economic times might not be in lenders’ best interests. “The banks that apply tough policies have chosen an irrational approach,” said Metropol’s Mark Rubinstein. “During a recession, the real sector expects banks to be more cooperative.”