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10 December 2012

High-tech online banking comes to Russia

Russian entrepreneur and former miner Oleg Tinkov is building a new business that will use Internet and mobile technology to bank the unbanked in Russia and other CIS countries.

Tinkov, who has already established five other businesses, is the inspiration behind Tinkov Credit Systems, an online bank that operates in Russia and which already has 2.5 million customers for its credit card business. His latest idea is to compliment that business with Tinkoff Digital, a new online marketing firm that will, he hopes, help the firm tap into the rise of internet and mobile technology in a country with a population of 140 million.

“Russia is one of the best places in the world for doing business,” he said. “That may sound surprising to you, but the country has a huge population, very little competition in financial services, and a consumer base that is willing to spend money. I see a real opportunity for high technology to come in and offer a far better service than Russia has ever had before.”

TCS has no physical branches anywhere; instead it focuses on offering mobile and internet banking. Drawing on the country’s relative lack of competition – Oliver Hughes, president at TCS, estimates that some 40% of the firm’s customers live in the smaller Russian cities, where the existing banking options are often very limited – Tinkov wants to use advanced technology to out-compete the local banks.

Russia currently has approximately 70 million internet users, and 15 million users of mobile technology. While internet usage is expected to grow by 5% this year; mobile usage is expected to expand by 26%. In keeping with Tinkov’s faith in technology, TCS employs around 400 people – of which some 300 are IT staff skilled in mathematics and analytics. The idea is to use Tinkoff Digital to tap into these expanding markets with targeted advertising to direct people to the exact services they are likely to use.

One of the new business’ key ideas is Data Mind, a business where advertisers can buy or sell user data on a low-latency market, based on factors such as the search history associated with their browser ID. While consumers in the UK often object to the use of personal data for such purposes, Tinkov insists that the data used by his company will bring only advantage to consumers by putting relevant information in front of them.

“We only have the browser ID, not details of the person’s family name, or any other personal data,” explained Ana Znamenskaya, chief executive at Tinkoff Digital. “It’s all about giving people the right information. In the future, you won’t see adverts that are completely irrelevant to you – everything will be targeted much more closely to what you are interested in.”

Russian credit card penetration currently stands at around 15%, and is expected to grow by 50% this year. Pointing out that traditional methods of reaching consumers – such as TV – are becoming much less effective at reaching young consumers aged under 35, Znamenskaya explained that the new venture would target young professionals.

“The young are using the internet far more than TV,” she said. “We see huge potential in Russia to bring sophisticated technology to bear to give customers high-tech services. TCS Bank and Tinkoff Digital are two parts of the same vision, which recognises that you can’t rely on TV for daily reach anymore.”


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