Financial services in Kazakhstan spark interest in Russia

Finance columnist
Russian businessmen are trying to find alternative ways to continue to trade with foreign partners amid sanctions on Russia

Most recently, Kazakhstan’s banks reported a growing number of requests from Russian financial entities, companies and individuals who want to set up a bank account in Kazakhstan. This information has been confirmed by several sources familiar with the issue.

About ten Russian banks have been sanctioned by western countries. VTB, Bank Otkritie, Sovkombank, Promsvyazbank and Novikombank, all of which were included in the SDN list, have faced the most severe sanctions. Correspondent accounts of the Russian Sber have also been sanctioned by American and British authorities. To avoid new limitations in work Russian entrepreneurs and bankers are now looking at Kazakhstan’s banks to register an account there.

According to Nurbank, at the beginning of the current year, a Russian bank had approached Nurbank and asked to set up an account to make it possible to support its client operations. Two different sources familiar with the matter have confirmed that Russian residents both companies and individuals are highly interested in registering bank accounts in Kazakhstan.

Russian businessmen are interested in new bank accounts to support their foreign trade as they desperately need an account to make a transaction in favor of their Western partners. They are ready to set up accounts both in Kazakhstan’s tenge and the US dollar.

However, Kazakhstan banks are not rushing to meet this demand. According to a source, no operations that are being scrutinized by compliance departments and companies under Western sanctions will be allowed to make their payments through Kazakhstan’s banks.

These concerns are quite reasonable as Kazakhstan commercial banks can face reputational risks, a risk to harm their business with Western partners or even a risk of being punished with sanctions if they violate the regime of sanctions, according to Timur Musin, an independent expert. Moreover, in the case of such violations, Kazakhstan’s banks may face fines of millions of dollars.

«In 2021, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control reported a maximal fine of $21 million, but this is not a record high. For example, in 2014 and 2019 such fines were about $1.2 and $1.3 billion respectively,» the expert said.

As Kazakhstan bankers noted they do not want to act as a transit point for illegal transactions or withdrawal money abroad.

It is necessary for banks to have a crystal-clear understanding of what purpose their Russian clients are going to make a transaction; are such transactions justified from the economic point of view or could it be just an attempt to get around Western sanctions. A bank should decide whether this transaction is normal or if there is a risk of violation, said Timur Musin.

However, there are some companies on the internet that tout their ability to facilitate the registration of a bank account in Kazakhstan to make any kind of transactions with foreign actors.  Some of them are ready to provide «assistance» in setting up accounts in several Kazakhstan banks, including Capital Bank, ATF Bank and Tengri Bank, which no longer exist.

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