Superstition

Russia's Biggest Bank Is Lending Cats


Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, is offering to lend cats to customers who take out home mortgages. Yes, cats.

According to Russian superstition, letting a cat walk through your new home before you move in brings good luck. “Order a cat for your housewarming, and bring happiness and luck to your home,” the state-controlled bank says on a special Cat Delivery Service website it set up to promote the campaign. Customers can choose among 10 breeds, including tabbies, Siamese, and an exotic hairless cat resembling a sphinx.

A video on the site shows new homeowners beaming with delight as Sberbank deliverymen release cats into their apartments. The cats mostly look bewildered.

The cats are owned by individuals, including Sberbank employees, “who agreed to let their pets participate in special projects,” Anastasia Vakhlamova, a bank spokeswoman, told Bloomberg Businessweek. The bank started receiving requests for loaner cats “immediately after the launch of the special project” in mid-August, she says.

Sberbank may not need cats to attract prospective borrowers. As the ruble plummets, many Russians are scrambling to put their savings into real estate. The government’s Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending predicts that new home loans this year could reach a record $41 billion to $50 billion. Sberbank (SBER:RM) reported today that its second-quarter profit rose 13 percent, as consumer lending rose 11 percent, to $87 billion.

Borrowing is getting more expensive, though. Russia’s central bank has been raising interest rates, and last month Sberbank increased the rate on most mortgage loans to a minimum 12.5 percent. The bank, which is more than 50 percent government-owned, also faces pressure because it has been placed on U.S. and European Union sanction lists that limit its ability to raise funds in those jurisdictions.

Some conditions are attached to the cat-delivery offer, spelled out in eight pages of fine print  available on its website. The service will be offered to only the first 30 customers who take out home loans of a minimum $116,000 during the period of the promotion, from mid-August to mid-December. Fifteen of the customers will be in the Moscow area and the remaining 15 in other parts of the country, spokeswoman Vakhlamova says. They’ll get to keep the cats in their homes for only two hours.

All in all, it might be easier to borrow the neighbor’s cat—and wait for the day when Russian banks start offering smartphones, gift certificates, or even toasters to new clients.

Matlack is a Paris correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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