Sberbank Approves Gref as New Head

Sberbank's board of directors overwhelmingly voted in German Gref, the former economic development and trade minister, as the state-owned bank's new president Wednesday.

Gref, the sole candidate for the post, received 96.9 percent of the vote at an extraordinary general meeting in Moscow. Ever since Gref accepted his nomination in early November, the vote has been viewed as a formality.

Gref takes over from Andrei Kazmin, who steps down after 12 years at the helm of the country's largest lender. Kazmin is to head up Russian Post.

Gref's arrival has been broadly welcomed by investors and analysts. After seven years in government, the former minister has earned a reputation as a liberal reformer and is popular with the Western business community. He is credited with overseeing the country's impressive economic growth in recent years.

Speaking to shareholders at Wednesday's meeting, Gref said a major part of the bank's future strategy would be focused on entering international markets, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported.

"I see the key strategy goal here in entering the international markets, primarily the CIS," Gref said, noting the need to spread the bank's risks.

Sberbank has a subsidiary in Kazakhstan and is currently eyeing opportunities in Ukraine. But analysts cautioned against a major push overseas.

"I wouldn't want Sberbank to get too aggressive abroad," said David Nangle, banking analyst at Renaissance Capital. "I think they have got enough on their plate at home."

Analysts said they expected Gref to maintain the bank's current strategy to a degree, given the size of the institution and its role as the country's major lender.

"I do not expect any major changes in strategy," said Rustam Botashev, an analyst at Aton brokerage. "It is not that easy to make changes in such a huge bank. It will take Gref a while just to get used to managing a bank of that size."

Botashev said, though, that he would expect Gref to improve the bank's relations with investors and accelerate the bank's Global Depository Receipt program.

On a conference call with analysts earlier this week, Sberbank deputy chief executive Alla Aleshkina said a planned listing of GDRs in London in February had been postponed and that the timing of the placement would be down to the new management team.

Aton's Botashev said Aleshkina's comments suggested that she could be planning to leave the bank.

When Gref's candidacy was announced in mid-October, several members of the management team sold their minority stakes in the bank, an apparent show of support for Kazmin.

Gref said Wednesday, however, that he did not propose any radical changes in the management team. He will meet with senior managers over the next few days to discuss their future plans, he said.

Sberbank has been one of the best performers on the Russian stock market, bucking local trends to rise by more than 30 percent since January. Last week, it reported 10-month net income under Russian accounting standards of 112.6 billion rubles ($4.6 billion), up 54.4 percent from the same period last year.