Russia's RenCap and Sberbank CIB axe top bankers amid growing gloom

Russia's RenCap and Sberbank CIB axe top bankers amid growing gloom
Staff cuts bite deeper on Moscow's investment banking circuit.
By Jason Corcoran in Moscow February 11, 2016

Renaissance Capital, the investment bank controlled by Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, has axed Ben Samuels as global head of equities while Timur Nasardinov, a senior adviser at Sberbank CIB, has also been let go.

Samuels, who was hired in 2013 from Bank of America, will be replaced by Ruslan Babaev who will combine his existing role as chief business officer, according to a statement from RenCap.

Nasardinov, an adviser to Sberbank CIB's head of global markets Maxim Safonov, left the bank in January, according to Russian news wires. bne IntelliNews has reported in the past fortnight on the departures of Sberbank CIB's chief strategist Kingsmill Bond as well as Kirill Gromov, head of domestic sales, and senior equity salesman Dmitry Ansimov.

Nasardinov, who previously ran Sberbank's equity division, was accused of making "an inappropriate and unwanted sexual overture" towards Svetlana Lokhova, a former colleague. Lokhova, who won £3.2mn last year in an employment tribunal case over claims of sex discrimination and unlawful dismissal, is now suing Sberbank for libel.

RenCap also fired Amr Aboushaban in January after the senior equity salesman met with three sanctioned companies in Iran.

Russian brokerages are tightening their belts and cutting headcount to the bone at home and overseas amid growing pessimism about any chance of a rebound in emerging markets and commodity prices. Investment banking fees dropped last year to a 13-year low due to a collapse in commodity prices and sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

Sberbank CIB investment banking fees plunged 72% to $13mn last year from $47mn in 2014, according to data provided by New York consultancy Freeman & Co. Overall fees for deals and mergers sank by 41% to $208mn.

In summer last year, Sberbank CIB cut at least seven bankers in its London office, reducing staff there to less than 40.

European Union and US sanctions against Sberbank and VTB over the Ukraine conflict are hampering banks in ways that go beyond the initial design, which was to restrict their ability to borrow on international markets. Some fund managers have flatly refused to do any business with Russian firms for fear of drawing regulatory scrutiny and weighty fines.

Sberbank, which is run by former economy minister Herman Gref, said the bank is focusing its investment banking expansion on Russia's regions instead of abroad. It has offices in London, New York and Cyprus.

RenCap, which retains an office in London and New York, has been trying to remodel itself as a pan-global emerging and frontier player rather than a Russia and CIS investment bank. The firm recently re-opened an office in Dubai and a second office in South Africa in Capetown.

Banking insiders said the departure of Samuels could mean RenCap is retrenching from global equities to bonds or even back to Russia. "The markets are awful now and it’s difficult to make any money from clients nowadays," a banker at a rival firm told bne IntelliNews.