What is the bank's status after completing its five-year strategic plan?
We are a relatively young bank with only 17 years of experience. However, we are also among the oldest private-sector banks established after the 1979 revolution. In order to compete with state-owned banks, which are over 80 years old and with 3,000 branches all over the country, Saman Bank started its operations by concentrating on electronic banking services and opening a limited number of branches in strategic locations. We maintain our position as being the pioneering bank in e-banking. That was the banks' strategy until 2008, when sanctions began to be imposed on the banking sector in the country. Since 2008, Saman has been focused on corporate banking and expanded its network of international correspondent banks. I am very proud to say that the status of Saman Bank, particularly in the international arena, is excellent. We are well known internationally and we have a strong reputation among European and non-European banks thanks to being at the forefront in implementing our AML and compliance units as well as quality of our services offered. Wherever we go, they know us very well. For example, I went to Vienna to meet a number of Austrian banks they are very keen to expand their operations with us and start a business relationship. We have noticed that European banks are interested in cooperating with Iranian banks, especially with Saman Bank, now that the limitations created by the sanctions, particularly for correspondent banking relationships, are over to a great extent.
What markets are you targeting to expand your network abroad?
First of all, we are going to establish offices in Europe. I am happy to say that we have received a license from the Central Bank of Italy to open a representative office in Rome, which will be operative soon. We also met the Italian Export Credit Agency (SACE) when the Minister of Economic Affairs of Italy visited Iran. After some encouraging talks and meetings, we built an excellent relationship to the extent that we signed an MoU in the private sector, in addition to agreements with the Central Bank of Iran. We have already started our relationship through various transactions and levels of credit between Saman Bank and several Italian companies. This agreement shows the close relationship between both countries. After Italy, we are planning to open offices in Germany and the UK. Besides European borders, we are planning to expand to India and Turkey.
How do you assess the value of your Investment Advisory Services for domestic companies to develop international trade?
We offer trade-financing services to the major companies in Iran. The most important part of our activities during the last six years has been focused on domestic companies involved in basic commodities, as well as pharmaceuticals firms that import raw materials from overseas and deal with major producers such as Bayer or Novartis. In fact, 40% of pharmaceuticals products and approximately 20% of basic commodities imported into Iran are handled by Saman Bank. During the last six years, we have financed an average of $5.5 billion of trade volume per annum. We are going to increase this volume of business, at least along the line of expertise that we have got experience in, but also for industries interested in our services. Moreover, we have designated a special branch exclusively to support exports of SMEs from Iran. We offer various lines of credit and we create export financing for companies that need to buy, prepare, and arrange the shipping of goods. If they are exporting their goods to various companies in the long term, we can finance their shipping documents, discount their bills, lend them, and wait for the maturity of the exchange to collect benefits from it.
What importance do you give to the staff training through Saman Academy?
Saman Academy is a highly useful institution for training staff. It started two years ago with an exclusive agreement with the French University of Grenoble. Every two weeks, different lecturers from Grenoble come to Iran and give lectures to our staff. The first graduates of the academy went to France to defend their thesis and got their official certificates. We also signed a contract with Euromoney International, which is going to run its third course at our academy. There are also other certificate bodies, like the Retail Bankers Academy from UK, which is going to come and provide bespoke training courses at Saman. We make sure we provide a large enough budget for training activities to ensure that our staff is well trained and hold international certifications.