Speaking of Russia... 1000 Dutch words and more
"Ever since we turned our clocks forward to welcome summertime, I put my winter coat away. Luckily not too far! Although we had the first 'warm' day of the year in the Netherlands this week, the temperature was well below zero in Moscow and the city was completely covered in snow, which meant one thing - time for my winter coat again..."
A blog by Jeroen Plag, head of Client Coverage Europe at ING, on a business trip in Russia
Focusing on the European offices and clients, last week I visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg. We met with Russian and international companies and discussed the local and international situation. We also spent time in the office to review the strategy as the banking landscape has clearly changed since the Lehman shock. The number of banks has almost halved since 2008 to roughly 600 today, weeding out the weaker ones. In the meantime, innovation entered the banking system. With major Russian banks dominating the scene, fingerprint-supported identification and contactless tokenisation gained more presence, while the number of payments via the internet and other electronic channels tripled.
We also met with clients that clearly had to change their strategies in light of the ongoing geo-political changes, such as European sanctions and various conflicts. Less exports and strong local cash generation caused low leverage and less opportunities to invest in efficiency. But consumer confidence will hopefully revert.
On a macro-economic level, the country has probably left the worst behind it: inflation and interest rates are coming down, the Russian ruble is stronger – which means it’s time for spending to pick up again. More local focus requires more local currency funding, which is clearly an area for us to focus on, and not something only reserved for Russian companies.
On a different note, en route to Saint Petersburg, I learned about the roughly 1000 Dutch words that Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725) introduced during his reign, at the time when he was building a larger copy of Amsterdam in the northern part of Russia: Saint Petersburg.
Peter spent almost four months working undercover at an Amsterdam yard and a lot of words that he introduced in the Russian language were mostly used in the shipping industry. It is said that after his visit to the Netherlands the red, white and blue of the Dutch flag found their way to Russia too. Clearly the Russian-Dutch heritage and cultural ties are visible today in Saint Pete, as referred to by the locals, when you see the Amsterdam styled canals. In 2009 a branch of the world famous Hermitage museum was opened in Amsterdam, further underlying the strong connections.
Back to business, we also picked up the topic of sustainability and how Russian companies can play a role in more sustainable transactions. Green bonds are a known phenomenon already, but the recently closed green loan facility with a kicker element led to more questions. We’ve definitely been noted for our increasing sustainability efforts, earning a pricing discount by our counterparts, so there is follow up to be done on the ground.
Coincidentally, Fabienne Brandsma, one of our Paris-based senior account managers, was in town as well. In France we have been very successful in raising sustainability as a strategic topic with our French clients – a good opportunity to have Fabienne share some of her experiences with the Moscow team.
From Moscow and via Saint Pete, I travelled back home to find more pleasant weather and with the desire to spend some time 'pierewaaien' (hanging out in colloquial Dutch) at the beach. 'Pierewaaien 'comes from the Russian word 'pier' or 'partying' in Dutch, something that the companions of Peter the Great were well-known for during the time their boss was busy exploring shipping techniques in Amsterdam.
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P.S. I am deeply saddened to learn about the explosion on a St. Petersburg metro train which took place on Monday 3 April. I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims.