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Russian banks start charging fees on FX accounts to reduce exposure

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)

(Reuters) -Some major Russian banks started charging fees for accounts in dollars and euros after authorities said they could consider imposing negative interest rates for foreign currency deposits, drawing the ire of customers.

Russia was considering imposing negative rates on deposits held in U.S. and European currencies to spur the use of other currencies, the central bank said last month, adding that the measure could target banks' corporate, not retail clients.

But on Thursday Russian online bank Tinkoff announced a 1% monthly charge for some forex accounts after its peer, the Russian unit of Raifeissen Bank International's, promised negative interest rates on some foreign currency holdings from June 30.

Tinkoff, which has offered exchange rate incentives to encourage Russians to move FX holdings to roubles, said the 1% service fee would be deducted monthly on accounts in dollars, euros, pounds and Swiss francs with a balance of over $1,000, starting from June 23.

Raiffeisen said on Thursday it would increase fees for foreign currency transfers, while Rosbank, which Societe Generale sold to a firm linked to Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin in May, said it was considering commission on dollar and euro accounts by the end of June.

After the bank's statement, customers of Tinkoff, owned by TCS Group Holding, complained of empty ATMs on a chat forum.

"Then let us take out money, what are you monsters up to!" one user wrote soon after the bank said it would be introducing the fee.

Tinkoff support responded to a Reuters reporter saying they top up their ATMs regularly but could not say definitively when cash would be added to those that had emptied.

Uralsib Bank, one of Russia's top 25 lenders, has also introduced commission on euro-denominated accounts.


With their already limited cash holdings of hard currency, Russian banks have few options for investing foreign currencies because of capital controls in Russia and the risk of funds abroad being frozen as a result of Western sanctions.

State Duma representative Yevgeny Fedorov told a Moscow radio station that the General Prosecutor should look into Tinkoff's move, saying the bank had no right to impose a fee on existing accounts without warning customers.

"According to Russian law ... If you have ownership of your funds, then no one has the right to take that ownership away from you," he said. "When people made the deposit, they did not expect the bank would start taking funds away from them."

Tinkoff said financial institutions were limited in being able to securely hold foreign currency "in the current geopolitical situation" and said an insignificant number of customers held amounts exceeding $1,000.

"This is a forced measure. It is due to the unreliability of foreign partners in terms of foreign currency operations for Russia and is aimed at reducing Tinkoff Bank's foreign currency positions," the bank said in a statement.

"In the near future, we will be offering accounts in alternative currencies."

Tinkoff said it would only be possible to open savings accounts in roubles from June 23 but that it would waive the commission for transfers over the SWIFT global payments system until June 30.

A similar measure would soon be adopted for foreign currency held in brokerage accounts, Tinkoff said.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Alison Williams)

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