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Sberbank re-invents itself as a Big Tech company

The bank rebrands itself as Sber and comes out with high-tech products for mass use:

Russia’s Sberbank, originally PJSC Sberbank, has some years ago dropped bank from its name and became Sber. The announcement followed with a major strategic shift in its operations. It announced plans to reinvent itself and rather than confine to banking activities would join the likes of Google or Apple or Amazon to become a Big Tech. One example of the things to come from its vast technology resource is SberPortal, a device that resembles Google’s Nest Hub and Amazon’s Echo. Its 10-inch screen provides gesture and voice recognition qualities and also has a 4-inch camera, premium Harmon Kardon acoustics and supports all known ways of communication with the user.

It has also come out with a superior virtual assistant, called ‘Salut’, which helps users to manage smart devices in the Sber ecosystem and complete several tasks. The bank claims Salut has more focus on emotional attachment than Apple’s Siri, Hey Google or Alexa of Amazon. Using AI and ML, it can process communication with high level of precision. The device is developed leveraging Sber’s NLP platform and is known for high quality speech synthesis, recognition technologies and neural networks.


Another smart product proposed is SmartMarket, which will be like AppStore of Apple or Google Play of Google. It will have coding tools available for businesses and entrepreneurs to produce their own apps and a revenue-sharing model where Sber will only take money from apps that charge money.

Sberbank is 50% plus one share owned by the Russian government. It has invested heavily in practically all forms of technology – ranging from cloud to driverless cars. It uses its own in-house developed hardware to process not just the banking transactions but, in the design and development of the latest technology products it has come out. Sber calls it the ‘largest transformation’ in its history.

Why this technology push and major diversification? Sber maintains that it has become increasingly difficult for banks to make money in Russia and banking has already become lower margin and more regulated, and that it was being disrupted by new, nimble players like neobanks.


In its technology push, Sber, however, has not left banking altogether. One of its new products is what is calls SberPay, which is a new payment system similar to ApplePay. It has also unveiled a new design concept for its network of 14,000 branches across Russia. Tellers are being replaced by super ATMs with face recognition technology through which customers can not only perform standard banking functions, but even order taxis and takeaway food.

The bank, along with its major corporate clients, had completed over 500 transactions and projects in the framework of digital and ecosystem services. The projects included the creation of client strategies for digital and ESG, transformation, and digital channels of interaction with clients and e-commerce sites, automation of control over employee and business process efficiency and optimization of IT infrastructure and rebuilding it for digital transformation-related tasks. These projects have helped the bank’s clients to cut costs of up to 30% for separate internal functions, up to 15% for IT infrastructure, and increase employee efficiency. It has estimated that by the end of 2023, it would grow the income from sales of such digital and ecosystem services by a factor of 5, which will allow the biggest Russian businesses to significantly increase their own efficiency.


Sber’s Sberbank Online is a highly popular service, which is essentially an effective alternative (to bank cards) payment system. Sber is the local slang one can hear in boutique stores, restaurants, beauty salons, music festivals, even dental clinics in Russian cities and towns, when the question of payment comes. The bank has almost become a total digital bank and its presence in the country is ubiquitous.

What makes it a truly national bank? Sber is estimated to control about 70% of all payments in Russia. It is also by far the largest bank card issuer. It has a mobile app, which is essentially a neobank. One can do any banking activity using the app. For customer, his or her mobile phone number works as the ID. Besides, it has 900, the number which every Sberbank client identifies as an official short number for the bank’s text message notifications. In online stores and services, instead of asking for card data, it is the phone number of the customer that is asked. And then there is a text message from Sberbank asking to confirm the purchase.

In just a few years Sber has transformed itself from the ‘babushka’, or grandma, bank to an innovative institution that not many have been able to achieve, mainly with things digital. It is today not just a digital bank, but uses digital to be innovative in business strategies.

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(This article has been compiled based on publicly available information on the web, particularly the bank’s own website.)

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