The rapid growth of Belarus’ economy, allied to the opportunities presented by the government’s privatisation and liberalisation programmes, has created a huge market for financial and professional services in the republic.
While the financial services sector is still in its infancy, in terms of meeting its potential, it has already attracted a host of blue-chip investors and firms from around the world including banks like Raiffeisen ZentralBank and Rosbank (part-owned by Société Générale), and consultancy firms Deloitte and Ernst & Young.
“Financial services are in many ways the most liberalised sector in Belarus”
Standard & Poor’s
Belarus was described by Business New Europe magazine as the ‘hottest bank market in the region’ in 2008, with huge demand for foreign capital to finance the investment and privatisation programmes the state has planned, and an under-developed but fast-growing retail market.
Four of the country’s five biggest banks were still in state hands in mid-2009 and controlled three-quarters of banking assets, with the government actively looking for foreign investors for all four. It was willing to sell controlling stakes in BPS-Bank and Belinvestbank, and minority shares in Belarusbank and Belagroprombank.
The only private sector bank which has broken into this dominance is Priorbank, which was set up in 1989 and sought foreign investment from Austria’s Raiffeissen Zentral Bank in 2002. In total, there are over 30 medium and large-sized banks in Belarus; with eight entirely foreignowned and another 12 with significant foreign held stakes.
The growth potential in the sector is aptly demonstrated by the simple statistic that in 2008 the value of the assets held by banks in Belarus was approximately 49.2% of GDP, much lower than its neighbours and the EU. For example, the UK’s banking assets are approximately 420% of GDP and France’s 330%.
Belarus’s insurance market is growing quickly, with the gross value of premiums reaching US $391.5m in 2008, up US $90m on the previous year.
Though the sector is still monopolised by the state with the top five firms controlling over 85% of the market in 2008, with just one privately-owned firm in the group, there is increasing foreign interest following government pledges to liberalise the sector.
It has promised to allow private firms to provide insurance to individuals and to insure state-owned firms. It is also expected to restructure the leading state-owned companies, including Belgosstrach, which has a 57% market share, in anticipation of privatisation.
There is already a good range of legal and professional services firms in Belarus and the market is still growing. Deloitte, the largest of the accounting and consulting firms in the republic, has seen its business expand steadily in the ten years it has been operating in Belarus. Several international law firms, such as regional specialists Magisters, have also set up operations in the republic in order to meet the growing demand by foreign investors for advice and legal support.
“The Belarus market is one of the most attractive and financially stable in the region. The government’s recent privatisation plans make it a lucrative emerging market for early entrants, as compared with more mature markets in the region such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.”
Denis Turovets, Partner, Magisters