Sberbank reportedly set to hand board majority to independents

By bne IntelliNews March 14, 2012

Graham Stack in Moscow -

Sberbank plans to boost the number of independent directors on its supervisory board to a majority according to media reports. Should it go through, the move would represent a significant step towards improving corporate governance at state-owned companies, and improve their investment case.

Seven of the seventeen directors at the state-controlled bank currently are independents. Majority shareholder Central Bank of Russia (CBR) has six seats and management two, whilst the remaining two are direct government representatives.

According to unnamed sources among top management and shareholders, Anna Popova, deputy director of the government staff, and Alexei Savatyugin, deputy finance minister, stand to lose their positions to bring independents to a majority of nine, reports Vedomosti. The sources also claim that Dmitry Tulin, a partner at Deloitte CIS, has already agreed to become an independent director, whilst a foreign banker is the second candidate.

The move is a pioneering development on the path to improving corporate governance at state-owned companies, and appears to reflect the stance of Sberbank CEO German Gref. As Minister of Economy between 2000 and 2007, Gref spearheaded the government's reform efforts towards a more pro-market approach.

Gref is also pushing for privatization of a 7.6% stake in the bank in 2012, which would reduce the state's stake in Russia's biggest bank to a 50% +1 share, the minimum needed for control. However, the CEO has made no secret of his ambition to see the government give up control in the medium term.

"While the CBR is set to keep a tight grip over Sberbank in the near term, with the board becoming more market oriented in the longer run we believe that market friendly moves such as higher dividends, share buybacks, and management option programmes will gain more traction at the bank, providing value story catalysts for the stock," write VTB Capital analysts.

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