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On the cover
7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


My Kyiv

The Man with the Midas Touch

I think Ive started one of our My Kyiv features before by saying that one of the great things about life in Kyiv is the interesting people you meet who lead fascinating lives. Greg Krasnov, CEO at Platinum Bank, is just such a character. Born and raised in Ukraine, he emigrated with his family to the US at the age of seventeen, where he did his undergraduate studies at Arizona State. He then moved to England to do his Masters (at Cambridge no less), and after its completion he decided to stay in Europe, working first in Warsaw, then London, then Warsaw again. All that time he had his eye on Ukraine, just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself

What brought you back to Ukraine?
I was working for a Central European private equity fund called Innova Capital, and one of my side responsibilities was to look for deals in Ukraine. Serendipitously I stumbled across a deal in consumer finance in Ukraine. Innova turned the deal down because it was too small, so I ended up doing it myself with some friends and family. In 2005, retail lending was a very interesting industry here in Ukraine as it was just starting out, so we started up a credit intermediary. Within six months of being founded, the company was put together with International Mortgage Bank, which was owned by Horizon Capital, also an investor in our company. Once the companies were merged, Horizon Capital invited me back to Ukraine to run the merged entity in 2006, and that was basically the start of Platinum Bank.

You left in 1991, just prior to independence, and came back in 2006: what had changed?
Well it was a whole different country: I left the Soviet UNI0N and came back to independent Ukraine TV was in Ukrainian, radio was in Ukrainian, and with me coming from the south, I wasnt educated properly in Ukrainian, so that was the first part of the culture shock. Ukraine has had a very vibrant, some would say turbulent, independence period politically and economically, but its come such a long way in such a short space of time its almost unrecongnisable.

Platinum Bank has grown at an astronomic rate. Whats behind its success?
Credit has to go to the early investors, including Horizon, East Capital, and IFC. But mainly, Id say it was Horizon with the vision that retail banking services in Ukraine would develop, and they were prepared to back that vision with a substantial amount of capital. Their vision proved to be absolutely correct: the under penetration of retail banking amongst the population is massive compared even to some of our closest neighbours. The market has developed rapidly, and weve been lucky enough to be riding that wave. Were lucky to be in this market with the proper tools, particularly when it comes to risk management. Risk management has been a challenge for most of the players because we dont have the proper market infrastructure for doing it right the credit bureaus are in their infancy, and therefore theres very little third party verification on income information. When it came to underwriting, we focused much more on a client's demographic profile rather then proof of income, and that proved much more reliable for us.

From a consumer point of view, what differentiates Platinum Bank from the others?
There are a couple of things that make us stand out, one of them being our stance on corporate social responsibility, something we take very seriously. In fact we have Key Performance Indicators written into our mission statement that dont only focus on financials, but also our employees and the society in which we operate. We get very involved in the communities in which we operate, such as working with childrens homes, computer classes, financial education for kids, and much more.
Of course, when it comes to product offering, we focus on whats known as the five Ps product, pricing, promotion, process and people. We really believe that in Ukraine you cant differentiate on price, as its a market with perfect competition; you cant differentiate on promotion as there are only so many ways in which you can send the message; you cant differentiate on product either, as these products have been around for a very long time. What do serve as differentiators is people and process, so we invest very heavily in this area. We invest heavily in people, especially those who represent Platinum Bank to our customers, as they have to represent Platinum Bank values. In this way, we provide a level of service that is consistent, and is of a high level.

Platinum Bank has shown massive growth since the crisis began. How did you manage to achieve this when almost every other bank was reining in and heading for cover?
We were lucky that we entered the crisis with a very healthy balance sheet structure. We were also incredibly lucky that we managed to raise a huge amount of capital just before the crisis, so capital-to-assets ratio was above fifty percent, which would normally be unhealthy for a bank, but moving into a crisis it was a very strong position to be in. We were also maintaining very conservative underwriting practices prior to the crisis, so our  mortgages have performed much better than those underwritten by our competitors. Our biggest challenge was on how to finance this massive opportunity where there was practically no competition, and we did this with a strategy to increase our deposit resources to our balance sheet. Mostly, we did this organically, opening our own branches, and also through the acquisition, in 2010, of Home Credit Bank Ukraine, where we incorporated their branches into our network, and their deposit resources onto our balance sheet. 

Banking in Ukraine is becoming increasingly difficult for foreigners with all the constantly changing legislation. How does it look from the inside?
I wouldnt say this was specifically targeting foreigners. What Im observing is a regulatory tightening on practically every front. I think this is caused by the history of Ukraine. Generally speaking, it seems that when people in power in Ukraine want to do something good for the country, their instinct is to prohibit and regulate more rather than liberalise and legislate less. I think were seeing a lot of this now. Sometimes its good, sometimes its detrimental, but one thing Im happy with is that the current government is actually doing stuff.  Things are happening.

What do you do you like to do in your spare time, and where do you like to do it?
I have a young son, so that takes up a fair bit of my time. But I do have two hobbies music and sailing. In the summer its mainly sailing, and in the winter its mainly music. I have a recording studio at home and like to record lounge music. Its what I do to relax and meditate I lock myself in there and record. I also love to play with other musicians and we do gigs occasionally. We do good ol rock n roll, blues and some Russian rock. We play at Cigar Club events and some Platinum Bank events too. We  once played on Maidan, which was a lot of fun. When it comes to going out in town, Im no longer a clubbing guy, so its mostly restaurants. My wife and I like Asian cuisine, but theres not really a great choice in Kyiv yet, so theres not one place I call home.

Neil Campbell

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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