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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unikom's Demise Puts Guta Bank In the Saddle

The Central Bank's decision this week to pull the plug on Unikombank effectively allows Moscow-based Guta Bank to complete the digestion of some of the choicest morsels from what was once the Moscow region's main bank.

While the regional administration and Guta Bank insist that other parties made it impossible for them to push through salvage plans for Unikombank, analysts said that both the region and its new favorite bank were happy to see Unikombank die.

This "completes the swallowing" of Unikombank by Guta Bank, said Margot Jacobs, a banking analyst at United Financial Group.

The demise of Unikombank, once the Moscow region's authorized bank and one of Russia's top 50 banks, "would not surprise anyone," she added. "Everything that used to be Unikombank's will now be effectively Guta Bank's."

Guta Bank had originally moved in to salvage Unikombank precisely because it was attracted by the chance to use Unikombank's infrastructure as a tool for expansion in the Moscow region.

But the Moscow bank, which stepped in to save Unikombank in December, taking a controlling stake as collateral for loans, decided to opt out of the deal when the bank's debts turned out to be larger than expected, said Alexander Bohonko, a Guta Bank spokesman.

The Central Bank revoked Unikombank's license on Monday at the urging of Moscow region Governor Anatoly Tyazhlov, who together with Guta decided Unikombank was beyond rescuing. Bankruptcy proceedings were initiated Wednesday against Unikombank by the Central Bank.

Before dumping Unikombank, Guta had made arrangements to hold on to some of its branch offices, signing lease agreements and applying for Central Bank registration. Unikombank has some 50 branch offices in the region, but Karasin said Guta only needs about 20 of these and most were already rented.

Guta Bank now has just two Moscow branches and a branch in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, so 20 of Unikombank's old branches will allow it to expand its branch network exponentially.

That kind of expansion had always been a major motivation behind Guta's involvement with the moribund Unikombank, analysts said. "It is quite logical [that Guta has taken over Unikombank's infrastructure], it had plenty of time to do this," said an analyst with Rating Information Center.

Despite refusing to rescue Unikombank, Guta will pay depositors to keep their business after taking over Unikombank's infrastructure, Karasin said.

Expansion in the Moscow region is part of Guta's "strategic course of becoming a retail bank at the federal level," Guta Bank's Bohonko said.

The bank is also counting on its good relations with Governor Tyazhlov to win the regional administration's accounts. "Guta Bank has been acting as effectively authorized bank on many projects [of the regional government]," said Oleg Dzhus, first deputy chairman of the Moscow regional committee for loans and investment policy.