Ruble crises: Russia bails out a bank.

Russia Is Bailing Out a Bank (and Bruce Willis Is Tangentially Involved)

Russia Is Bailing Out a Bank (and Bruce Willis Is Tangentially Involved)

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 22 2014 12:05 PM

Russia Is Bailing Out a Bank (and Bruce Willis Is Tangentially Involved)

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This is a real screenshot from Trust Bank’s website.

Screenshot via Trust Bank

The important news out of Russia today is that the country is bailing out its first bank since the ruble's collapse escalated into a full-fledged economic crisis. The amusing news out of Russia today is that said bank happens to use chrome-domed man of action Bruce Willis in its advertising, making it irresistibly ironic that this institution did not, in fact, die very hard.

First, the important stuff. Russia's central bank said it would pump up to 30 billion rubles, or roughly $540 million, into Trust Bank, the country's 16th largest bank by deposits, and is looking for an investor to help complete the rescue.* According to the Wall Street Journal, Trust Bank "prospered on burgeoning consumer spending" during the good old days of high oil prices. But since their economy nosedived, Russians are spending less and have stopped paying many of their loans. So take this bailout as a blunt reminder that without expensive crude, Russia does not have a functioning economy.

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Also take it as a sign of things to come. Remember, one of the central problems facing Russia right now is that its banks and corporations owe hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign currency. And because of Western sanctions over Vladimir Putin's Ukraine invasion, they can't borrow more to cover those debts. With the economy imploding, that can only mean one thing: more bailouts to come. Right now, the government is finalizing a law that would inject 1 trillion rubles, or about $18 billion, worth of capital into the financial sector. Who knows if that will be enough to do the trick.  

Now the fun stuff. According to the WSJ, Trust Bank has employed Mr. Willis as a spokesman for four years now. To wit:

Advertisements feature Mr. Willis alongside quotes, such as “I’m cool, and so is Bank Trust!, “Trust is like I am, except it’s a bank!” and “When I need money, I just take it.”
Mr. Willis first appeared in the advertisements in 2010 and the bank launched the most recent campaign featuring Mr. Willis on Oct. 24. It said in a statement at the time “our capable hero will be seen dealing with force majeure with his trademark panache and wit, all the while helping customers with difficult financial decisions.”
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I assume the slogans work better in Russian. And what could be more comforting than having John McClane watching over your finances?

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Banking, but with more John McClane.

Photo by Reuters

Anyway, it's easy to joke—and lord knows Russians love gallows humor. But the country's degenerating economy is a tragedy for its people, even if it seems like a much needed repudiation of Vladimir Putin's petro-dollar-fueled authoritarian government. And it's bound to get worse from here.

*Correction, Dec. 22, 2014: This post originally misstated how many U.S. dollars 30 billion rubles equals. It’s roughly $530 million, not $530 billion.

Update, Dec. 22, 2014: This post has been updated to reflect recent currency moves. As of Monday afternoon, 1 trillion rubles is worth almost $18 billion rather than $16.5 billion. Thirty billion rubles is worth about $540 million, rather than $531 million. 

Jordan Weissmann is Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.