Sberbank, the biggest state bank in Russia and the country’s largest lender, is expanding its Swiss branch to include a new cryptocurrency exchange. Such exchanges are currently prohibited under Russian law, and although new legislation is on its way, Sberbank decided not to wait.

Sberbank’s Head of Global Markets Andrey Shemetov said that customer demand had driven the decision. Client interest was high, he said, which is “why we think that we need to have a strategic access to these products”.

Shemetov underlined that the exchange would “be available for legal entities only”, i.e. that it will be for institutional rather than retail traders. Sberbank already has a presence in Switzerland with its Swiss operation headquartered in Zurich. This branch will be expanded to include exchange options.

Sberbank Keen on Blockchain

Sberbank are well known supporters of cryptocurrency. Their head, Herman Gref, told Russian news agency TASS that though there was work to be done in educating the public, a ban on cryptocurrencies was the wrong approach. “It is necessary to explain to people that it does not store value”, he said, “but right now is rather a very dangerous thing, like a lottery or a casino”. Even so, “It should not be banned, as it is a great new technology in development, which no one is yet able to comprehend.

Earlier this month Sberbank opened a blockchain lab focused on how the technology can help the bank and its clients. Senior Vice President Igor Bulantsev said that “blockchain can considerably reshape many business areas related to the financial market”, adding that Sberbank was “making a contribution to the future of the banking industry and our country by launching the blockchain laboratory.

Huobi Also Opening Overseas Offices

Sberbank is not the only company opening an exchange in another country to bypass domestic regulation. Huobi, a Chinese exchanges hit by China’s exchange prohibition, announced at the Blockchain Connect conference that it would be setting up in San Francisco. Chief Strategy Officer Cai Kailong confirmed that “the U.S. will be our focus right now.”

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