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Government must do more to boost Russia growth: Sberbank CEO

Friday, 15 Nov 2013 | 1:58 AM ET
Problems 'everywhere' in Russian economy: Sberbank CEO
Friday, 15 Nov 2013 | 1:15 AM ET
Herman Gref, CEO of Sberbank, says that slower growth will take place in Russia if the government doesn't implement reforms.

As Russia downgrades its own growth forecasts up to 2030, the chief executive of the country's largest lender, Sberbank, warned that the government needs to reform to boost the economy,

"We have to do everything necessary in order to grow at a higher rate, " Herman Gref told CNBC on Thursday after Russia's economy ministry warned last week that the boom years were over for a country that has grown wealthy on its abundant oil and gas reserves.

"So far this is a virtual reality, not a reality, just an outlook. [But] this may become a reality if the Russian government doesn't do very active reforms. And I believe that these reforms shall begin. And we're talking right now about an alternative reality because the potential of the Russian market is very unique," Gref added.

The economy ministry cut its growth forecasts last Thursday, adding that it now expects the economy to report annual growth of 2.5 percent up to 2030. In April, the government had predicted annual growth of between 4 and 5 percent to 2030.

Russia was the world's second-largest producer of oil (after Saudi Arabia) and the second-largest producer of natural gas in 2011 (second only to the U.S.), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Such reserves have enriched the economy and Russia was cast among the BRIC emerging markets, alongside Brazil, China and India, as one of the countries to watch in terms of economic growth. Indeed, prior to the financial crisis in 2008 it had registered economic growth of over 8 percent a year.

By its own admission, however, the country is over- dependent on such energy reserves for its wealth and the competition of cheaper energy sources – such as shale gas in the U.S. and its cheaper coal exports – have threatened Russia's dominance as an energy exporter, particularly in its closest market Europe.

(Read more: Why Russia must reform its energy sector)

Herman Gref told CNBC that "there are problems everywhere" in Russia but that the waning influence of Russia in the energy sphere could prompt the government to act.

(Read More: Business leaders send strong message to Putin)

"The oil price has stabilized and there is no more excessive money available, and that seriously stimulates one to want reforms. Rarely do you see reforms is taking place in an environment where everything is alright - usually, reforms are undertaken under circumstances where there is nothing else to do. We are coming to the threshold beyond which Russia won't be able to do anything else but reform," he said.

"We currently have a small budget deficit, but nevertheless we need to raise the economic growth rate… and investments. And all these things point to the need to start reform," he said, adding that he was "quite optimistic" the government would act soon.

His comments come as Sberbank – which holds almost 50 percent of Russia's retail deposits – announces reforms of its own to double its earnings and assets by 2019. To do so, it said earlier this week that it plans to cut 30,000 jobs and close over 3,000 bank branches a part of the cost-cutting program.

Gref told CNBC it was essential for the bank to enact reforms "in order to remain in the market."

"We need to become much more effective. Our customers won't tolerate such levels of costs in the future. All transactional costs need to come down. And we are planning to reduce our cost-to-income ratio by more than 5 percent, and this is very ambitious. We need to maintain high capital and profitability," Gref said, adding that similar reforms are something that "the whole of the banking sector won't be able to avoid, both in Russia and across the world."

(Read More: Russia needs to spend its oil wealth: Deputy PM)

"We are trying not just to act in a big way but also in a very quick way. We're trying to keep abreast of the situation in the market and changes there," Gref insisted.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt

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