Sberbank CEO tells Putin of huge returns on its AI investments

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s dominant lender Sberbank is making around $3 billion each year from artificial intelligence, a return on investment of about 200%, CEO German Gref told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

Advances in generative AI by firms such as startup OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, are stimulating excitement about the potential benefits for business and society. Russia, shunned and sanctioned by the West, is having to develop the technology largely alone.

“Every year we invest a sum of around $1 billion in artificial intelligence technology,” Gref told Putin at a televised event in the Kremlin. “And we get about $3 billion back from artificial intelligence.”

“The scale is serious,” Putin responded. “This is absolutely the future. If we talk about the importance for the country, for any country, it is on par with atomic or missile projects of the Soviet Union in the mid-1940s and 1950s.”

During his time at Sberbank’s helm, Gref has overseen investments in artificial intelligence, cloud services, big data and smart devices, transforming the former Soviet savings bank’s image. He didn’t specify which business lines within the AI segment were generating revenue.

Sberbank discloses little about its burgeoning tech business, but the lender has become a crucial player in helping Russia navigate Western sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)