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3 outdated stereotypes that hassle with your business expansion to Russia

The nature of my job is to establish partnership between fintech, e-commerce and digital businesses run by people from different countries. Mostly it is a local business in Russia reaching out to businesses in US, UK, Germany, China, Korea or, my favorite, to global companies. While you can expect a more or less standard set of stereotypes from business that is still mostly local in their country, a global company is something you never know what kind of legit or ridiculous concerns you may face.

Here is the most popular set of Russia-fobic business stereotypes:

1. Soviet Russia

“Russians hate foreigners and foreign products. Local government will eat you alive. Too difficult to deal with”

Only heard from EU and US companies that never been to the country in the recent decade, and most information they get is from way too dubious media propaganda. Easily treatable when showing objective statistics on the market, top services, as well as actually inviting them in to see for themselves. The truth is no country, no market is easy, and Russia is no exception. But comparing to China, Korea, Japan, even US & UK, Russian market might be more open to foreign businesses. E-commerce and digital entertainment market is not dominated by a single local player as in other regions, regulatory rules actually allow foreign companies to operate on different levels of enclosure, and the local b2b services are neutral to business nationality.

Russians purchase on Ozon and AliExpress, Wildberries and Asos, talk on WhatsApp and Telegram, like each other on VK and Instagram, they watch YouTube and TNT, eat at McDonalds and local cafe, drink kvas and Coca-Cola, play World of Tanks and World of Warcraft, listen to Timati and Maroon5, use Korean cosmetics, drive Japanese cars and go on vacation to Turkey. Of course, that’s a generalisation for 146 million people across 11 time zones, and habits vary among age, region and social circle. But that’s not a closed society either.

2. Russia is a cash country

“Bank cards are not popular, its mostly cash-on-delivery”

Once you put a hashtag to a market, it’s tough to get it off. Time flies, market evolves, and not without the help of e-commerce itself. In the beginning of 2018 the volume of payments made by bank cards was almost twice as much as the cash withdrawals from them. E-commerce and fintech community is not particularly fond of cash, so Russian payment landscape is quite unique and does not look like anything in the world. Russia has a diverse payment pie for online payments with bank cards, 3 major e-wallets, online banking, carrier billing, cash pre-payment in ATMs, kiosks and cashiers, online loans.

Visa and MasterCard cards are taking up to 70% and 30% payment volume respectively, with MIR still small but growing. Bank cards are widely accepted in major and middle cities with proper NFC-enabled POS infrastructure. It was no coincidence Russia was chosen as one of the first markets for Apple Pay and Google Pay. The banking industry is more innovative and flexible than many of those in Europe. Most bank cards are chip&pin and NFC-enabled, personal banking is quite cheap for clients, most e-commerce and digital services support online acquiring. Banks have those kind of mobile banking apps, and supported digital banking scenarios for daily use, that some UK banks can only tap in much later.

E-wallets are another pillar of online payments, offering p2p transfers, payments for any kind of product service from the wallet app or on the merchant page for years. Funded by bank cards or transfers, cash through the nationwide network of cash-accepting machines connected to internet, 10 years ago they solved a cash to e-money conversion problem, that some of current US fintech is presenting.

And let’s not forget the convenient online banking experience that bypasses payment schemes, and allows direct debit from bank account only by asking a phone number.

Russian payment landscape both online and offline is so diverse, innovative, smart and fast-changing, that it is definitely worth another conversation.

3. Russia is a small market

“Russia is low in our priority, its quite small”

146 million population, 39 median age, 85 million internet users, most of whom buy online or transact online regularly, and if your services are not limited by geography, and more by language, then feel free to add a couple of tens of million more speaking Russian in nearby countries. It does not sound like a small market to me.

Definitely, there should be some efforts in localisation, payment collection, marketing, advertising and promotion that is better done from local rather than global. Just like in any other region. Also, it might be useful to evaluate the opportunity not just from current Russian volumes, but from other stats like website metrics, customer support feedback, social activity. As it usually turns out, unless there is a prominent successful example of another company from your region, its just scary to be the first, try and make mistakes or make it big.

Chinese companies do not think twice, they are there. Russia is yet to see a flock of Korean and Japanese companies rushing in within the next few years, as we know they are looking very closely at the market, Turkish have retreated to focus on the positions locally, and EU is keeping themselves safe from unknown threats, while pushing into more difficult markets.

Sounds like bad news?

Overall, these and a few more concerns I deal with every day, working in fintech industry that serves seemingly global and open e-commerce and digital services industry. But that is actually good news too. All those foreign business concerns take root not in objective market trends, but in usual stereotypes, that could be overcome. Even though not easily at times.

***

Anna Kuzmina is the deputy Chief Commercial Officer at Yandex.Money, one of the leading fintech companies of Russian origin, operating both b2c and b2b financial services. Follow Anna on YoutubeTwitterMediumTelegram или на Яндекс.Дзене.

 

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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina

Deputy Chief Commercial Officer

Yandex.Money

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08 Oct

Location

Moscow

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