(Bloomberg) -- Raiffeisen Bank International AG plans to sell or spin off its Russian subsidiary, narrowing options for a unit that has faced criticism for making record profits since the start of the war in Ukraine.
“The RBI Group will continue to progress potential transactions which would result in the sale or spinoff of Raiffeisenbank Russia and deconsolidation,” Chief Executive Officer Johann Strobl told a shareholder meeting in Vienna Thursday.
A sale would need approval from Russia’s government and would likely come at a discount of at least 55% to the unit’s fair value, given Moscow’s rules on asset sales, according to a person familiar with the bank’s discussions. Raiffeisen has attracted serious interest from two potential buyers, one Russian and one foreign, the person said.
Spinning off the unit would probably result in the Russian bank being listed in Vienna, which may be a preferred option for shareholders, according to the person. Both options may ultimately fail and the lender hasn’t set a timeline for any deals.
The decision comes amid growing pressure from regulators and governments for the Austrian lender to wind down its Russian operations. Raiffeisen had become one of the few conduits for international payments in the country, reaping record commissions even as it announced a strategic review of the unit and cut its loan book by 30% shortly after the invasion.
Shares of the lender rose 3.3% at 1:13 p.m. in Vienna, paring losses this year to 8.9%.
RBI handles about a quarter of all euro and dollar transactions in and out of Russia, according to its own estimates. Such services helped fuel the firm’s record pretax profit last year, but also brought the scrutiny of US authorities who are reviewing whether the business has complied with sanctions introduced in the wake of the war.
The restrictions have prohibited RBI from collecting dividends from the Russian subsidiary, inflating its capital. The bank is looking at a theoretical option to buy the remaining assets of Sberbank’s European subsidiary and swapping them with the Russian parent to extract capital, Strobl told shareholders.
His speech was briefly interrupted by a protester calling the bank a terrorist organization and accusing it of sponsoring Russia’s war.
An exit from Russia would follow Societe Generale SA’s sale of its business in the country, which resulted in a hit of more than €3 billion for the French lender. It would leave UniCredit SpA as the last remaining European bank with a big Russian unit. Other firms such as Germany’s Commerzbank AG have smaller businesses in the country.
The European Central Bank, the top regulator for euro area lenders, had signaled that it wanted to see firms reduce their Russia risks faster.
“The exit strategy used by some banking groups still present in Russia has not thus far delivered the results expected,” Andrea Enria, who leads the ECB’s banking supervision arm, said last week. He acknowledged it has become difficult for banks to follow the example set by SocGen of a complete exit, saying Russia’s attitude toward allowing banks to sell local units is “a little more hostile” now.
Amid the pressure, RBI said earlier this month that it stopped opening accounts for new corporate clients at its Russian business and is limiting new foreign-currency services for existing customers.
--With assistance from Nicholas Comfort and Kateryna Choursina.
(Adds details on Russia transactions in seventh paragraph, protest in eighth.)
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