MOSCOW (Reuters) – Expobank’s owner Igor Kim, who has been involved in banking for more than 20 years and has made a record number of acquisitions in the Russian market, is actively investing in tech companies and has even created the ExpoCapital fund for this purpose, Kim said in an interview.
“As a strategic investor, I seek to invest in technologies that can be truly advanced: new materials, AI and medicine. Projects that will be highly demanded all over the world,” says Kim explaining his interest in technology.
Seven years ago he started investing in the OCSiAl startup, producer of singlewalled nanotubes. The technology allows strengthening of any known industrial material from textile to aluminum, he says. The company’s sales reached $10 million in 2018 bringing it closer to a break-even point.
“If we talk about the amount of my personal investments (in OCSiAl), I have invested tens of millions of dollars, the latest investment being in 2018. I have the largest package per investor, about 20%,” said Kim.
However, the company is primarily controlled by the project founders he had known for many years: a physicist Mikhail Predtechensky, and also businessmen Yuri Koropachinsky, Oleg Kirillov and Yuri Zelvinsky - together they own over 45% of the company’s shares.Rusnano has invested $20 million in the project and has also purchased convertible Eurobonds for another $40 million.
He explains his confidence by the fact that the scope of industries where nanotubes can be used is wide enough.
“Starting from household items such as cleaning equipment and finishing with space projects: for example a space elevator for placing satellites into orbit, as described by so many science-fiction writers. It means the opportunity of access into space without jet thrust and burning large amounts of fuel. But, of course, these tasks are for the next couple of decades,” says Kim.
Kim and some of his clients, partners and the bank’s management have created the ExpoCapital fund for investments in high-tech projects. The fund amounts to about $100 million and allocates between $500,000 and $3 million per one investment.
One of the first investments is the Botkin IT platform for diagnosing and assessing the risk of cancer, particularly lung cancer. The technology, according to Kim, significantly enhances the radiologist’s ability to diagnose. There are doctors who lack experience, and Botkin will help them determine any signs and symptoms of the disease.
“Now I also want to focus on global projects, including those that will outlive us,” explains the businessman. He says that startups occupy a significant part of his time.
HOW BANKS HOLD ON IN RUSSIA AND EUROPE
Kim believes that large Western banks that remain in Russia have a chance to continue their work: “Experience shows that history is cyclical. Normalisation will not come at once, but in the medium term the risks will be decreasing”. Kim admits that many bank owners in Russia “still want to go out of their business” - he concludes from the number of offers.
Banks in Russia need to find their niche, he says: “We are intelligent bankers, and it all depends on what is in demand at the moment”. In 2014, the necessity of car lending development was not obvious, while in 2017 it became a trend, says Kim adding that a year ago the bank decided to enter the express guarantees market. Kim himself, whose banks operate in the Czech Republic, Latvia and Serbia, remains optimistic despite geopolitics.
“The Czech regulator is objective enough. Professional judgment is not affected by the Russian origin of our capital. You just have to be professional,” considers the banker.
Kim plans to build an IT platform on the basis of the Czech bank and expand it throughout Europe: “Russian banks are much more advanced technologically than European banks. In Germany for example the share of cash is even bigger, and a virtual card is more of an exception. Try to use Apple Pay or transfer money to a phone number there. The rate of change demonstrated by Russia’s Sberbank, for example, is much higher”.
* A short version, see the full version at https://ru.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idRUKCN1TM13T-ORUBS