Russia’s Sovcombank Partners With China’s UnionPay

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Move a step forward to ultimately provide a non-SWIFT payments system and avoid US sanctions 

Sovcombank, one of the largest banks in Russia in terms of assets, has signed an agreement with China’s UnionPay International (UPI), whose services payment provider system is global and offers alternatives to US cards such as Mastercard and Visa.

The agreement will roll out Halva credit and debit cards this spring based on UnionPay’s international payments system. In partnership with more than 2500 institutions worldwide, UnionPay International has enabled card acceptance in 180 countries and regions. UnionPay cards also support the contactless QuickPass payment method, which will allow customers to easily and securely pay for purchases at almost any merchant in Russia.

The UnionPay-based Halva card will be of interest to travelers who frequently visit China, South-East Asia and the Middle East. For them, the card offers additional benefits: acceptance at almost all merchants in China, no need for conversion cash transactions, and discounts when paying for goods and services in shops, restaurants and hotels.

“The appearance of new cards based on the UnionPay international payment system in the Halva range of cards opens up new opportunities for our customers. The card will offer all the benefits of the Halva instalment system, as well as the privileges of the UnionPay loyalty programme. Sovcombank ATMs and terminals will start accepting UnionPay cards issued by other banks” commented Anna Kambulova, Managing Director of Sovcombank.

“We are excited to collaborate with Sovcombank to offer more payment solutions in the Russian market that both our local and global customers can benefit from,” said Xia Yu, the head of UnionPay International Russia branch. “UnionPay International has been committed to providing a one-stop, valuable payment solution that encourages customers to achieve better deals in daily life. Customers in Russia will benefit enormously from UnionPay’s expanding partnership network and global reach.”

Both parties are planning to extend their partnership in acquiring UnionPay cards in Russia, a further step in making UnionPay products more accessible in the market.

Sovcombank

Sovcombank is a global bank, and one of the top 10 largest banks in Russia with assets of about 1.9 trillion Rubles (US$25.5 billion) The Bank has 22,600 employees in 2,629 offices located in 1,050 locations throughout Russia, serving 12.1 million clients.

UnionPay

UnionPay is a Shanghai based, international payment system founded in 2002. UnionPay’s payment acceptance network has expanded to 180 countries and regions, and more than 70 countries and regions have issued UnionPay cards. In Russia, UnionPay cards are accepted at over 95% of POS terminals and ATMs. Over 1.6 million POS terminals accept UnionPay cards with QuickPass contactless payment technology, and over 3 million UnionPay cards have been issued in Russia.

SWIFT Payment System Alternatives

Russia has long been threatened with disconnection from the US controlled SWIFT international payment service, with this being accelerated due to the situation in Ukraine.

Both China and Russia have independent settlement programs at various stages of implementation. China launched the Cross-border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) in 2015, an independent clearing system with the RMB as the quote currency. Similarly, Russia has been developing its own financial messaging System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS).

Both systems are now in position, making it relatively easy to build an independent Russian-Chinese financial system by linking the two. The next step will be working out which currency – the Ruble or the RMB – will be used as quote currency. Tapping into such a system is likely to involve Union Pay technology and its network, making the decision by Sovcombank a Russian strategic one as well as a customer service outlet.

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Russia Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. During these uncertain times and sanctions imposition, our firm assists Russian companies relocate to Asia, and provides financial and sanctions compliance services to foreign companies operating in Russia. We also provide market research and advisory services to foreign exporters interested in Russia as the economy looks to replace Western sourced products. Please contact us at russia@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com.