FINANCIAL GIANT

Iran 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Mohammad Ali Sahmani, Managing Director of Refah K. Bank, on being the financial arm of the SSO, its accomplishments in e-banking, and expanding its global footprint.

Dr. Mohammad Ali Sahmani
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Mohammad Ali Sahmani holds a PhD in accounting from Allameh Tabataba’i University and is currently the Managing Director of Refah K. Bank. He was the CEO of Bank Tose’e Ta’avon for almost three years, and has been Member of the Board of Directors in Bank Maskan for over seven. Dr. Sahmani has served as board member of several manufacturing companies, investment holdings, investment companies, brokerage companies, and exchanges for 13 years. Currently, he is a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in the faculty of management as well.

How does Refah K. Bank distinguish itself in the highly competitive Iranian banking sector?

Refah K. Bank is fully owned by the Social Security Organization (SSO). This organization is a large and active fund in which 44 million people have a stake. This is more than half of Iran's total population, so the SSO is clearly a giant company with huge and important holdings. The SSO is involved in diverse economic segments such as petrochemicals, steel production, medicine, food, and transportation. Next to this, it is active in finance. Refah K. Bank is the sole financial arm of the SSO. The term bank refers to what we call a financial institution, because in Iran we do not have investment banks. Financial institutions serve as the alternative indeed. It must be noted that two things distinguish Refah K. Bank from other banks; one is its connection to the SSO, and the other is its diversification, with subsidiaries of the bank operating in different sectors. In comparison to other Iranian banks, Refah K. Bank plays an important role in the economy in terms of social security. Other banks do not really serve this function. We are a strong and special financial institution with huge capital and assets.

Do you use these assets to support particular industries in Iran?

We definitely do. Refah K. Bank has a fixed-interest fund with nearly USD700 million in assets and liquidity. We also have a program to support different activities of the SSO. We finance and render services to companies that invest in different sectors. We offer government-backed Sukuk bonds that are in accordance with Islamic law. Refah K. Bank is experienced in this field as well. Last year, we provided the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare with such Islamic investment documents which were equal to almost USD1.1 billion and related to investments in supporting health insurance plans.

How is Refah K. Bank innovating with the services it provides?

We have a program for expansion in e-banking services and are updating our hardware and software in order to achieve further accomplishments in e-banking. We own large stakes in three IT companies. One of them, Data Processing Iran, is well known and was probably the first IT company in Iran. This company used to be the representative of IBM in Iran. Refah K. Bank owns nearly 50% of this company's shares. Another company, called Saman Pardakht, is influential in the banking system, and we own 30% of this company as well. Saman Bank is the chief shareholder of Saman Pardakht. The third IT company associated with Refah K. Bank is Tosee'h Tejarat. This company is completely owned by Refah K. Bank and is involved in IT banking services. We are boosting our income not only by deriving additional income from non-banking activities, but also as a result of our interest and expansion in mobile banking and e-banking. We always look to apply new technologies.

How has Refah K. Bank proceeded in the field of international banking since the lifting of sanctions?

We are trying to develop our bank both in the local and international arena. We are quite successful in doing so. In 2016, we were able to increase our international banking activities, with active relationships with around 120 international banks. Of course, this is an ongoing activity. We have important customers and partners in various sectors in Iran. For example, the Social Security Investment Company (Shasta) is one of our important partners. Shasta has around USD20 billion in assets. It is the largest investment company in Iran and supports many of the activities of the SSO. Being the primary subsidiary of the SSO, Shasta is in fact bigger than Refah K. Bank. It is also our principal customer. Nearly all the subsidiaries and investment companies of Shasta are also our customers. We also have a program for establishing a new branch, probably a new bank in Europe.