Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia and third-largest in Europe, is developing plans to establish a cryptocurrency exchange in crypto-friendly Switzerland.
Andrey Shemetov, Sberbank’s head of global markets, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday that Sberbank’s decision to establish the exchange outside of Russia was made “in order to avoid violating domestic rules’ while ‘[serving] clients in what is a popular market for some investors.”
According to Shemetov, Sberbank’s plan is to establish a Swiss branch that will be known simply as ‘Sberbank (Switzerland) AG’; the Swiss branch will have headquarters in Zurich. Shemetov explained that the establishment of a Swiss entity will give Sberbank the opportunity to “completely build the trading infrastructure so that we can open our own positions and give customers service, that is, buy and sell for clients.”
Russian news outlet Ria Novosti reported that the products offered by Sberbanks’ Swiss subsidiary will only be available to legal entities, at least initially. Shemetov said that because ‘the product is very risky’ and the ‘volatility is very high’ that the bank would ‘not provide these services to a large number of customers.’
The timeline for the establishment of the Sberbank (Switzerland) AG is not yet known.
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Russia’s Regulatory Climate Isn’t the Most Crypto-Friendly
Just last week, Russia published a set of cryptocurrency regulations that were originally drafted at the end of 2017.
The laws, outlined in a document entitled “On Digital Financial Assets”, were created to “[regulate] the relations arising in the creation, issuance, storage and circulation of digital financial assets, as well as the exercise of rights and performance of obligations under smart contracts.” According to a report from News.Bitcoin.com, the laws are expected to go into effect in September of this year.
The regulations are the latest development in Russia’s long and complicated relationship with cryptocurrency, which has long been riddled with contradicting statements: government nods toward using a national cryptocurrency to its own benefit, the establishment of a rather healthy crypto mining industry, and threats to make crypto inaccessible to investors.
While the majority of Sberbank is owned by the Russian government, it’s not yet clear if the Russian government will take action to regulate or quell Sberbank’s Swiss initiatives.
Sberbank’s Interest in Crypto Extends into the Past
Despite the Russian government’s indecision when it comes to crypto, there is some evidence that Sberbank has had interest in the crypto industry for some time. News.Bitcoin.Com reported that Sberbank president Herman Gref stated in early January that “cryptocurrencies cannot be banned, it’s a wonderful new technology which has not yet been fully captured and studied.”
Additionally, Sberbank reportedly purchased a large amount of the graphics cards that are used for crypto mining in November of last year, although the bank explained that the cards were for ‘laboratory artificial intelligence’.
Meanwhile, Switzerland has been making its name as a global hub for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology firms with the expanding ‘Crypto Valley Association’ in Zug, which counts Shapeshift, Xapo, and Ethereum among its members. While Sberbank has not stated any plans to join the association, this is the first time that a major foreign bank has established a crypto firm in Switzerland.