Depositors to decide Komercbanka's fate

  • 1999-07-29
  • By Anastasia Styopina
RIGA - Time is running out for Rigas Komercbanka. If the insolvent bank fails to collect 6.3 million lats ($10.5 million) in the next few days, administrator Gundars Cers says he will be forced to start the liquidation process.

The fate of the bank rests firmly with its clients, Cers said. That's why he tried to convince about 400 depositors gathered at Daugava Sports Center July 20 to leave their money in the bank in exchange for shares and future benefits.

"Today we are at the borderline," Cers told the depositors. "If we don't get those 6.3 million lats, and there is no result after this meeting, I will have nothing else to do but start liquidation. I can't allow the current situation to go on indefinitely because the bank is incurring more losses every day."

The Bank of Latvia suspended the operations of Latvia's fifth largest bank in March because losses on Russian T-bills left it with liabilities that exceeded its assets.

Although the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Latvia's central bank and two banking syndicates have come through with 34.3 million lats for Komercbanka, it cannot open its doors without an additional 6.3 million.

The previous government promised to help by giving 1 million lats, but new Prime Minister Andris Skele balked on that pledge when he took office earlier this month, saying the government should not waste scarce budget funds on the troubled bank.

But after meeting with Einars Repse, governor of the central bank, Skele seems to have changed his mind.

"If the Bank of Latvia's head is so certain that the plan is realistic, the government might support it, although we do not have such money now," the Baltic News Service quoted Skele as saying.

The official decision on whether the government should lend a helping hand to Komercbanka should come later this week.

Meanwhile, Cers claims he is very close to collecting the required 6.3 million lats but did not reveal how much more is still needed.

Komercbanka spokesperson Valdis Jalinskis said after the meeting that 969 clients have expressed their readiness to restructure their deposits in Rigas Komercbanka, investing 50 percent of their deposit as capital.

If depositors agree to take part in Komercbanka's rehabilitation plan, they will have to give up half of their deposit for the bank's shares. The bank wants to keep the remaining 50 percent for three months after it resumes operation, and then the sum will be paid to depositors in eight months.

The depositors were also lured by the promise of lower service charges and loans with lower interest. Komercbanka promises to split 75 percent of what it earns on Russian GKOs between those depositors who agreed to help the bank.

"The only possibility is to take part in the rehabilitation plan," said a depositor who refused to give his name. "We think that otherwise, we will get only 5 percent to 10 percent [of the deposit]. Now we'll have the possibility to get at least 50 percent."

Cers admitted that the only alternative to rehabilitation is liquidation. In such a scenario, only a small percentage of the deposit will be returned, he said.

"Besides, they won't get it at once. Only after the bank's property is sold and all debts returned, could people get their 5 percent or 10 percent," he said.

Some of the bank's clients were still doubtful when they were leaving the meeting.

"I don't understand why they need those 6.3 million lats if so many banks have agreed to help. Why do they have to bother residents? I can't believe these 6.3 million lats are that important," said one local depositor upon leaving the meeting.

The depositors had two days to make a decision, but Cers is taking strict measures against those who play the "wait-and-see" game.

"We want to have justice, because those people who don't take part in rehabilitation can come and take their money out once the bank opens," he said.

All deposits up to 1,000 lats can be withdrawn freely, but for bigger deposits, the bank has set a 50 percent service charge that will gradually be reduced as the bank gets stronger.

Hakan Kallaker, one of Cers' consultants, has no doubt the bank has the potential to make a comeback. Once it resumes operation, Kallaker said he expects Komercbanka to find a foreign investor.

"We have a good base to go further," he said. "It's possible to build a good bank specializing in payments and Internet banking."