Russia’s Alfa Bank reportedly buys RBI’s internet bank Zuno

By bne IntelliNews September 14, 2015

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Russia’s largest privately-owned lender Alfa Bank has reportedly bought Zuno, Raiffeisen Bank International's (RBI) Czech and Slovak internet banking unit, Czech media reported on September 12, quoting unnamed sources.

The deal paves the way for the second Russian bank to enter the Czech banking market, after state-controlled Sberbank bought the CEE business of Austria’s Volksbank in 2012. It also represents Alfa's first acquisition in Central Europe.

RBI and Alfa have agreed on the transaction, with the value of the acquisition worth some €35mn, sources told Lidove Noviny. Both RBI and Alfa denied to comment on the report. Alfa, controlled by Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, has international operations in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands.

RBI announced plans to sell the loss-making Zuno in January. A month later it said it had received more than 20 bids, but refused to give further details. Besides Alfa, other suitors included France’s BNP Paribas, Austria’s Erste Bank as well as Slovak millionaire Pavol Krupa, owner of investment group Arca Capital, according to media reports.

Slovakia was the first country in which Zuno launched in December 2010, and it has around 140,000 clients in the country. It entered the Czech market in 2011, where it has some 90,000 clients. Zuno is reported to have consistently posted large annual losses since it was established.

RBI is the Czech Republic’s fifth largest lender by assets. The sale of Zuno comes less than a month after local media reported Raiffeisenbank is leading the race to buy the Czech retail business of Citigroup. Banking sources told E15 in August that RBI’s Czech unit is in exclusive talks with the US bank over the acquisition.

RBI and Citibank are not the only foreign banks looking to sell some of their operations in the Czech Republic, which is an extremely stable, but somewhat unexciting market. While major banks such as Ceska Sporitelna, CSOB and Komercni Banka – all owned by major Eurozone banking groups – benefit from a high volume of small margin business, there's little action on the market to boost the fortunes of smaller players.

General Electric said in April it plans to sell the Czech subsidiary of GE Money Bank within the next two years. Should it fail to find a strategic investor, however, GE might list the unit, according to sources.

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