ZPay, a payment application for foreign tourists in Iran, has won Bank Pasargad Iran’s award for best fintech innovation at the First Fintech Festival. ZPay enables foreigners to shop in Iran while keeping their money outside the country. Iran is doing much to improve its fintech standing. Earlier this month, it was reported that Iran had launched a FinTech Association to push for further development. And yet, while the capital Tehran is home to a growing number of local fintech startups, Iran still has a long way to go before it can be considered a fintech hub.
On Feb. 26 the Iranian government got the parliament approval to sell a total of 10 trillion rials ($308 million) worth of excess properties owned by its ministries. The raised money is expected to help shore up the troubled Post Bank of Iran and the Cooperative Development Bank. According to economic newspaper Donya-e Eqtesad, toxic assets account for 40-45% of total banking assets in the country. Nearly 15% of these assets consist of immovable assets such as land and buildings. The rest consists of nonperforming loans and government debt. The sale of at least 33% of the surplus assets could have taken place in the fiscal year running to March 20, but banks eventually decided to find a legal way to postpone the sale process. Real estate expert Farhad Beizaei accused banks of wasting time so that they can sell properties at higher prices next year.
Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Valiollah Seif said the country plans to establish a bank in Azerbaijan with 100% Iranian ownership. The plan involves turning a branch of Bank Melli Iran in Azerbaijan into an independent Azerbaijani bank. Seif added that all the shares of the new bank will be owned by Bank Melli Iran and that the details would be discussed next week during the visit of the Azerbaijani delegation to Tehran. Seif emphasized that certain plans were on agenda for Iran and Azerbaijan to use their national currencies in mutual transactions. Currently 32 banks operate in Azerbaijan and 36 banks operate in Iran.
The National Development Fund of Iran (NDFI) plans to make investments in international money and financial markets. According to the fund's director, Ahmad Doust-Hosseini, the fund is also ready to support foreign investors as well as Iranian exporters by extending loans. Doust-Hosseini said from the next Iranian year (March 21, 2017), 30% of revenues from the sale of oil, gas and their related products will be deposited with the NDFI. He added that the fund belongs to the private sector and non-government enterprises, so state-owned entities will not receive any loans. Ali Salehabadi, CEO of the Export Development Bank of Iran (EBDI), said his bank will allocate working capital to export projects in the form of foreign exchange and rial loans in partnership with NDFI.
Banks in Iran have made progress since the signing of the nuclear deal, yet many obstacles to doing business internationally remain. The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was meant to free up Iran’s economy and banking sector by lifting the sanctions imposed on the country in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme. Under the nuclear sanctions, the US fined several big banks for dealing with sanctioned countries. For that reason, many large international banks fear being fined again if they re-engage with the country, even though they are now allowed to do so under the terms of the JCPOA. So far, only small banks have been willing to re-engage with Iran.
For Islamic banking, the opening up of Iran is a huge development, as Iranian banks make up the world’s largest financial system based on Islamic law. A large number of sukuk and other Islamic securities from Iran are expected over the next few years. Estimations are that there are over 150 Iranian companies considering Islamic sukuk sales. Iran also requires funds for its infrastructure development programs estimated at around $1 trillion over the next decade, according to a report published by Forbes. Islamic banks in the region are building their activities in key sectors of the economy. Retail banking has traditionally been the mainstay of Islamic banking in the region. Here, investment in digital and smartphone banking will be crucial in future.
Iranian insurance firms generated 21.7 trillion rials ($525.9 million at market exchange rate) from selling life policies during the eight months to November 20, marking a 37.19% growth compared with the same period of last year. Central Insurance of Iran’s database also shows that life insurance accounted for 12.15% of insurers’ total premium income during the period. The share was recorded at 10.66% during the same period of last year and 11.98% in the month ending October 21.
Insurers paid 7.4 trillion rials ($179.3 million) to 240,000 life policyholders as indemnity. The payout ratio of the category stood at 34.2% for the eight months to November 21.
According to Sanhab data, insurance firms collectively earned 179 trillion rials ($4.33 billion) from selling 34 million insurance policies in all categories during the eight-month period. A year-on-year comparison of data indicates a 20.4% growth in premium income and 9.8% increase in the total number of sold policies. The total paid claims amounted to 101 trillion rials ($2.44 billion) during the period, marking a 25.6% growth YOY.
The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has announced plans to close down Future Bank, a joint venture between two Iranian lenders – Bank Saderat and Bank Melli – and Bahrain’s Ahli United Bank, said a report. The CBB said it intends to submit a petition to the competent court for compulsory liquidation of the Bahrain-based retail bank, reported the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
A Chartered Accountant and Tax Administrator, Mr. Bicci Alli has said that the federal government as well as states cannot shun Islamic financial instruments whose market is valued at over $2.6 trillion, because it has the capability to bridge the infrastructure deficit in the country.
The federal government is presently looking for financial and legal advisers and trustee firms to organise its first Islamic bond in the domestic market, the Debt Management Office (DMO) said on Monday. Nigeria is working on a debut sovereign sukuk but has yet to determine the size of a potential deal. Issuance of a sovereign sukuk is part of a plan by Nigeria’s debt office to develop alternative sources of funding and to establish a benchmark curve.
Iran's central bank will take chairmanship of the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) for the year 2017. Shut out of the global system by sanctions, Iranian banks are eager to resume business with foreign lenders with deals ranging from funding infrastructure to insuring foreign trade. The IFSB Council said late on Wednesday it had appointed Iran's central bank governor Valiollah Seif as chairman, with Bangladesh Bank governor Fazle Kabir as deputy chairman. Iran's entire banking system follows Islamic principles, there are 34 Islamic banks that held total assets of 14,451 trillion rials ($448 billion) as of March. This represents around a third of total Islamic banking assets globally, although Iran's version of Islamic finance can differ with what is observed in other Muslim-majority countries.
Iran and Venezuela inaugurated a joint bank to finance their development projects. The opening ceremony took place in Tehran during a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Tehran based Iran-Venezuela Joint Bank has an initial capital base of 200 million dollars, with each nation providing half of the funds. The Export Development Bank of Iran, which is under sanctions from the US Treasury, was tasked with creating the joint bank. The joint bank will work within Iran’s banking regulations and its activities will be overseen by the Islamic republic’s Central Bank. The board of directors comprises four Iranians and four Venezuelans. A joint investment fund will also be launched in Venezuela.
Russia and Iran are exploring the establishment of an Islamic bank as the two countries expand their economic cooperation. According to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, the banks are exploring the mechanism, but the related decision has not been made yet. State-linked Russian lenders Vnesheconombank, Sberbank and Tatfondbank have been developing Islamic financial products of their own over the past year. Iran is keen to diversify funding options for its companies. At present, most financing in Iran is sourced from domestic lenders with only a small portion sourced from foreign sources and the debt capital markets.
Iran has established correspondent relationships with 230 foreign banks since January 16, following the implementation of the nuclear deal. In addition, Iran's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance reported that the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) has begun brokerage relations with numerous banks around the world. This includes 64 banks in 20 European countries, 36 banks in 17 Asian states, four banks in Africa as well as one bank in Latin America. However, the Islamic Republic complains that it still does not have access to global financial markets. Many international banks still shy away from financing trade deals and processing transactions for fear of US penalties.
The British government has announced that it has removed Bank Saderat Iran (BSI) from its list of sanctioned entities. The decision to delist the bank was in line with the amended regulations by the European Union regarding the lifting of sanctions against Iran. The regulations required the sanctions against the BSI to be maintained until 22 October 2016. Britain has previously lifted sanctions against three other Iranian banks. In January, the Bank of England announced that it had reactivated the licenses of Melli Bank, Persia International Bank and Bank Sepah International. This followed the implementation of a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries. Iran agreed to restrict certain aspects of its nuclear energy activities in return for measures by the P5+1 to remove certain economic sanctions imposed against the country.
A senior Iranian banker has dismissed a recent report by the research center of the country's parliament, which suggested that most banks in the Islamic Republic are on the verge of bankruptcy. Esmaeel Lalehgani, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Bank Saderat Iran, has said that the country enjoys a strong and stable banking structure. He confirmed that there are some shortcomings in the system regarding the government's debts, low capital and overdue debts. However, these shortcomings do not mean that the banks are on the verge of the bankruptcy.
Iran is working on a plan to establish a joint bank with Azerbaijan. Elman Rustamov, the chairman of Azerbaijan's Central Bank (CBA) is discussing the matter with Iran's Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyebnia. The two neighbors are also discussing the opening of branches of the two countries’ banks in Baku and Tehran. The Iranian minister said the main obstacle on the way of banking cooperation is the existing sanctions against Iran's financial sector.
#SouthKorea’s Woori Bank has launched a Korea Desk in Iran to help Korean companies with their business activities in the Islamic Republic. Central Bank of Iran's deputy Gholam-Ali Kamyab said this move could prepare the ground for the opening of Woori branches in Iran. Korean companies will be able to use Woori Bank’s service in the Iranian bank or the Korean bank’s outlets in neighboring cities of Bahrain and Dubai for their businesses in Iran.
The lifting of sanctions has not only enhanced Iran's economy but has also provided an opportunity for Shari'ah-compliant investment with diversification opportunities. Iran's Islamic banking assets are $482 billion, according to Dubai Government data from 2014. Islamic finance in Iran can benefit from the sheer volume of the post-sanction investments and such projects are reportedly high. This will in turn support the market growth and create growth opportunities for the banking system in Iran.
Iran’s central bank governor Valiollah Seif demanded the Obama administration take more steps to facilitate his country’s banking transactions world-wide and warned the landmark nuclear agreement reached last year could be at risk if the U.S. doesn’t act. The White House in response to Seif’s comments replied that the U.S. is abiding by the nuclear agreement. Iranian banks have been unable to process international money transfers and finance trade freely in the months since the deal went into effect in January. Iran also has faced obstacles in repatriating tens of billions of dollars of its oil revenues.
Iran’s government plans to shift part of its borrowing from local corporate investors to the capital markets, a move that could stimulate trading in debt securities and help the economy recover from years of economic sanctions. The government is laying plans to offer a range of debt instruments in the markets, where they could be bought by institutional and individual investors, rather than placing debt directly with banks and Corps.
At present, Iran’s banking sector provides around 95% of all financing, with only a tiny portion sourced from the debt capital markets. Several efforts are under way, like the approval to use ijara sukuk..