Russia’s VTB axes global banking head Andrew Cornthwaite

 Russia’s VTB axes global banking head Andrew Cornthwaite
In 2009, VTB Capital bought the old London headquarters of Lloyds bank.
By Jason Corcoran in Moscow November 25, 2016

VTB Capital, the Kremlin-controlled investment bank, has parted company with Andrew Cornthwaite, its head of international global banking.

His London-based position was terminated on November 8, according to a regulatory filing submitted to UK Companies House. Cornthwaite is also listed as inactive on the industry regulator FCA website since October 31.  Cornthwaite didn't reply to requests for comment while VTB’s press service declined to comment.

Cornthwaite joined the Russian lender in 2013 from Renaissance Capital to lead the expansion of its global banking unit outside of Russia and the CIS.  At RenCap, he had served as deputy chief executive and head of investment banking and had previously held an array of roles at Credit Suisse in UK, Hong Kong, Russia and Africa.

The banker has recently entered the pub trade in Herefordshire after forking out £350,000 to save the 200-year-old Baiting House in the hamlet of Upper Sapey from demolition. Cornthwaite and his wife Kate, a part-time sheep farmer, spent six months spearheading the restoration project, according to a report in May in the Daily Express newspaper.

"I'm just a villager who wants my pub," he told the paper. "Prospective buyers couldn't get a mortgage on it and couldn't look at the accounts for the last three years as there wasn't any. Only an idiot like me would decide to put my hand in my own pocket and buy it."

In an interview in November 2014, the Oxford graduate told the Wall Street Journal that sanctions imposed on VTB over the Ukraine conflict would wash off the bank like water off a duck’s back.

“You can have a 30-second conversation with clients about most of these things,” the banker said in a rare interview from his oak-paneled office across the street from the Bank of England.  “Is anything stopping us from lending money? No. Financing? No. Advisory? Not an issue. Capital markets? Not an issue. So there isn’t really a debate to be had with clients.”

Cornthwaithe insisted VTB Capital, the international arm of VTB’s investment-banking unit, was outside the eye of the storm and its ability to advise on international mergers or debt issuance would not be impacted. “Revenue numbers in both the percentage terms and absolute terms for the international business are still going up,” he said

Unfortunately for Cornthwaite, his pronouncement was wide of the mark. VTB has become a pariah in western capital markets over the past two years and has had to slash hundreds of staff from its office in London and on Wall Street.

VTB Capital was set up with personal backing from President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the financial crisis as Western investment banks retreated from Russia. In early 2009, VTB Capital bought the old London headquarters of Lloyds bank, planted a Russian flag on the roof and hired more than 100 bankers. It later opened offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.

VTB at its peak employed more than 500 people in London, mainly in its investment banking unit and global anti-money laundering and compliance units. bne IntelliNews reported in August that the London unit had slashed its headcount by 22% under efforts to shrink its growing losses.

According to a filing submitted to UK Companies House on June 28, VTB last year cut its UK personnel to 330 from 425 and its operating expenses by 15%. That helped the lender to significantly narrow its post-tax loss to $9.5mn from $92.2mn a year earlier.

VTB Capital earned just $9mn in fees from arranging Russian bonds, mergers, IPOs and loans in the first six months of 2016 compared with $27mn for the same period of 2015, according to data supplied by New York-based consultancy Freeman & Co. The business has lost ground to its state-controlled rivals Sberbank CIB and Gazprombank. These earned $33mn and $28mn in the first half of this year, respectively.

VTB, which is run by former Soviet diplomat Andrey Kostin, has therefore been aggressively reducing costs and trying to diversify into new geographies to offset the blows in Europe and back home in Russia. The parent of VTB Capital was sanctioned by the US and the EU over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the unit has suffered from severe contagion as well as a collapse in commodity prices.

Two years ago, Kostin accused UK regulators of making excessive demands on the UK operation because of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. bne IntelliNews reported exclusively in February this year that Russian lender Gazprombank was also winding up its London operation after the UK regulator indicated it wouldn’t grant authorisation without more information about its shareholder.

Meanwhile, VTB, which retains offices in London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Sofia, has also shrunk its real estate in the UK capital. The bank entered into a commercial lease agreement for office space for five floors at 14 Cornhill, a prestigious building next to the Bank of England.

A report in the Financial Times on October 11 suggested Brexit complications may force the lender to move its European headquarters out of the UK.