It covers payment methods and information on, banking systems, foreign exchange controls, and U.S. and correspondent banking.
Methods of Payment
Payment methods and terms vary depending upon the U.S. company’s business model and relationship with its Russian trading partner. For new-to-market companies, requesting advance payment for goods and services from a Russian customer may be a prudent safeguard until both parties establish a positive record of payment. Once a U.S. firm has established a strong relationship with a Russian trading partner, it may consider extending short and eventually longer-term credit to bolster sales volume. This step should be undertaken with caution and only after careful evaluation and establishment of successful payments. 30/70 is a commonly used payment structure for international transactions in Russia, meaning 30 percent due at the time of order/invoice and 70 percent due upon shipment.
For large transactions, advanced payment from a Russian buyer may be impractical, and financing may be provided by a bank, export credit agency, or venture fund. Please note that due to the Russian annexation of Crimea and ongoing Ukrainian conflict, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) has suspended its operations in Russia. Exporters’ risk can be minimized with a bank or insurance guarantee from a Russian bank that would be acceptable to a U.S. bank. Several Russian banks and/or their corporate leadership are currently sanctioned by the United States government, and exporters must verify that they abide by U.S. sanctions when conducting financial transactions. Sectoral sanctions applied against Russian banks limit the duration of debt/equity financing that can be provided and may affect standard export transactions. In leasing deals, exporters should insist on an upfront payment of three to fourth months upon delivery to mitigate risk.
Leasing has become increasingly attractive for both sides because of its economic effectiveness, flexibility and accessibility in comparison to bank financing. Most large Russian banks have leasing programs that they offer their clients, and there is a growing list of foreign leasing companies operating in Russia that offer Russian clients leasing terms for imported equipment. Aviation, energy, mining, construction, transportation, pharmaceutical production, forestry and fishing industry equipment, which may be too expensive for many Russian customers to purchase outright, are often leased.
As with sales, companies providing leased equipment must also be careful to comply with U.S. sanctions that (as already mentioned) limit the duration of debt and equity financing for certain Russian end-users, particularly with respect to Russian entities on the U.S. Sectoral Sanctions Identification List (SSI List) in the financial, energy, and defense sectors. For more information on Russia sanctions, please consult the Russia resource website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Digital payments and personal finances are the two major segments of the fintech industry in Russia, constituting roughly 90 and 9 percent of the market share, respectively. In 2019, the total value of electronic payments was over 613 trillion Russian rubles (US$8.51 trillion), while the value of bank card payments amounted to about 27 trillion Russian rubles (US$375 billion). Bank cards were the second most employed mode of payment after cash in the country as of 2019, among which MasterCard, Visa and the National Payment System (MIR) were the key market players.
more information about the methods of payment or other trade finance options, please read the Trade Finance Guide available at https://www.trade.gov/trade-finance-guide-quick-reference-us-exporters
The upper level of the banking system in Russia is composed of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation (“Bank of Russia”), which is the key regulatory authority for banking and is in charge of monetary policy. The Bank of Russia is responsible for regulating banking activities. Through its instructions, regulations and other acts, the Bank of Russia establishes rules, standards and obligatory requirements for banks and non-banking credit organizations throughout the Russian Federation. The lower level of the banking system in Russia is composed of credit organizations and representative offices of foreign banks.
Pursuant to Federal Law No. 395-1 “On Banks and Banking Activities” dated 2 December 1990 (“Banking Law”), there are two main types of credit organizations: banks and non-banking credit organizations. A bank is a credit organization that has the right to carry out such banking operations as opening and maintaining the bank accounts of legal entities and individuals, attracting deposits from legal entities and individuals, and placing those funds in its own name and at its own cost and expense. A non-banking credit organization is an entity that is allowed to perform a limited number of specified banking operations as set forth in its license.
Both banks and non-banking credit organizations are entitled to carry out banking operations from the moment of receipt of a banking license issued by the Bank of Russia. As of July 2020, there are 388 operating banks (257 banks with a universal license and 131 banks with a basic license) and 39 non-bank financial institutions in Russia.
Despite improvements over the last several years, the Russian banking system is still evolving in meeting the capital and credit needs of a growing, more dynamic market economy. However, while the banking services available from Russian banks are still limited compared to what is available in the United States, a company doing business in Russia can access an expanding range of basic services offered by larger commercial banks. The Central Bank has reclaimed operating licenses from nearly 300 banks since it began a banking cleanup in 2013, citing various legal and regulatory violations. While individual investors are covered up to 1.4 million rubles, corporations receive no insurance on deposits, resulting in near total loss of funds in the case of a bank closure. High interest rates on commercial loans pose another challenge; however, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has significantly reduced rates since 2014. Currently, rates are approximately 10-25% from commercial banks and 5%-9% for State-supported loans. One-time equipment leasing deal rates are approximately 10-19%, depending on market conditions and details of a lease agreement.
Foreign Exchange Controls
Currency control legislation has been liberalized considerably in the past 20 years. For payments related to the import of goods, there are no significant restrictions. However, the bank of the Russian importer is obliged to ensure compliance of payments with currency regulations and tax obligations. Therefore, the Russian importer and its bank set up a “transaction passport” for each contract. The foreign exporter is not directly involved but may be affected due to the need for the Russian importer to obtain documents and information from the exporter. For more information, see Conversion and Transfer Policies in the Investment Climate Statement.
U.S. Banks and Local Correspondent Banks
The Russian banking sector is dominated by large, state-owned banks, with the top five banks controlling over 50% of assets. At one time, there were over 3,000 small and regional banks, but economic pressures, regulatory actions, and insolvency have led to significant consolidation within the sector. State-owned banks have been the primary beneficiaries of the Russian government’s efforts to inject short- and long-term liquidity into the market to mitigate economic downturns in 2009 and 2013-2015. Russia’s largest domestic banks include Sberbank (owned by the Central Bank); VTB Bank (state-owned, including subsidiaries VTB24, VTB Capital, and Bank of Moscow); Gazprombank (subsidiary of state-owned Gazprom); Rosselkhozbank (state-owned agricultural bank); and Alfa-Bank (Russia’s largest private commercial bank). All of the above state-owned banks (not including private Alfa-Bank) are included in the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Ukraine-related Sanctions List, which limits the types of transactions in which U.S. companies may enter with these banks. The sanctions significantly limited access of these organizations to the U.S. financial markets, as August 2017 legislation prohibits the conduct by U.S. persons or persons within the U.S. of all transactions in, provision of financing for, and other dealings in new debt of longer than 14 days.
Russia’s largest private commercial banks, in addition to Alfa-Bank, include Russian Standard Bank, Moscow Credit Bank, Sovkombank, Tinkoff Bank, Bank Saint Petersburg and Uralsibt.
The largest U.S. and European investment banks operating in Russia include Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan, Barclay’s, Deutsche Bank, and UBS. The largest foreign-owned commercial banking institutions in Russia include: Raiffeisen Bank (Austria), Unicredit Bank (Italy), Citibank (U.S.), HBSC (U.K.), and Deutsche Bank (Germany). In 2013, new laws were enacted forbidding foreign banks from establishing branches in Russia, permitting only subsidiaries to be created.