TBY talks to Hamid Tehranfar, Member of the Board & Vice Managing Director of Bank Saderat, on reviving its international footprint, its long history, and complying with international financial standards.

Hamid Tehranfar
Hamid Tehranfar received his master’s degree from Iran High School of Banking and started his professional career at the Central Bank of Iran, where he has been active for 30 years. His last position at the Central Bank was that of Deputy of the Governor. Recently, he joined Bank Saderat Iran as a Member of the Board and Vice Managing Director.

Bank Saderat has been one of the cornerstones of Iran's banking sector, with close to 3,000 local branches. How do you assess the contribution of your bank to the Iranian economy?

The first Iranian bank was created 130 years ago as a branch of a foreign bank. Subsequently, certain Iranian banks started operations, and Bank Saderat was one of the most aggressive banks at the time, established 66 years ago and the first purely owned by the private sector. At the dawn of the Islamic revolution, all Iranian banks were nationalized. Then, around seven years ago, the bank was privatized again. From the first days of Bank Saderat's existence, we have had branches outside the country. The first overseas branch was in Hamburg, which is still operational. Hamburg was chosen because it was a hub for Iranian carpet sellers. We used to have many branches in the UAE, and a reasonable number of them are still active. Bank Saderat Iran has always been the most important bank outside the country. In terms of the numbers of customers and depositors, Bank Saderat owns 50% of all Iranian banks set up outside the country. The sanctions affected our international footprint, which we now seek to rebuild. Bankers are cautious regarding these matters. However, Iran has economic ties with the world, which is demonstrated by the large amount of oil sold to other countries every year. The money involved with this should be transferred by banks, and if a bank is not willing to do business with Iranian banks, there will be other ones.

What are your plans to further expand the international network of Bank Saderat?

The first step is to reestablish our establishments outside the country. We intend to reshuffle our staff abroad and employ people with more expertise who are more efficient in absorbing customers. Next, we want to reinforce the relations between Bank Saderat and its international branches and partners abroad. We seek to strengthen our position in Europe and believe Vienna is particularly important. After Brexit, new financial centers in Europe will emerge, and we believe Vienna may become the next financial hub of Europe. Therefore, we are studying these possibilities in order to have a more efficient international strategy.

Do you seek partnerships with international banks and investors that can help you achieve your domestic and international goals?

Bank Saderat has a great international history and is respected by Iranians. We have loyal customers who have stood by the bank through all the difficulties. We will benefit from this when the situation improves. We have had some excellent and promising discussions with other banks. We have also reopened certain international branches and subsidiaries, including the ones in Paris and Athens, though they are not as active as they were before. During the sanctions, we suffered a great deal. Our foreign establishments no longer make the profits they did before, and there are no new businesses yet that we can profit from. Therefore, we are gathering our former customers and trying to revive the business.

What is Bank Saderat doing to catch up with international banking standards?

We have asked renowned auditing, accounting, and law firms to scrutinize our operations because we do not want to hide anything. This will help us present an excellent picture of the real situation of the bank and the extent to which Bank Saderat complies with international financial standards. In this way, we can improve our weak points and have a more efficient business. The Iranian banking system faces difficulties, and there are different reasons for that. In order to manage the private banking sector, the regulatory framework needs to improve. In addition, the government needs to realize that private banks are completely different from state-owned banks. Having a dual banking system, with private and public banks, requires special attention and the authorities need to learn how to deal with the mixture of banking systems.