Iran sanctions shadow falls on smaller German banks

Pedestrians stand outside the Grand Bazaar outside a Bank Melli Iran Inc. bank branch in Tehran. (Getty)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Iran sanctions shadow falls on smaller German banks

  • Some German companies plan to press on with Iran dealings
  • German exports to Iran rose 15.5 percent last year

Germany’s biggest lenders have shied away from business with Iran after past penalties for breaching US sanctions, but smaller banks have leapt on opportunities afforded by the nuclear deal rejected by Donald Trump.

There are just months to go until a November deadline issued by Washington after the US president abandoned a hard-fought agreement that loosened business restrictions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for Tehran giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But some firms plan to press on in their dealings with Iran despite the looming threat of penalties.

“We will continue to serve our clients,” for now, said Patrizia Melfi, a director at the “international competence center” (KCI) founded by six cooperative savings banks in the small town of Tuttlingen in southwest Germany.

The center, which supports companies operating in sensitive markets like Iran or Sudan, has seen demand “rising sharply in the last few years, from firms listed on the Dax (Germany’s index of blue-chip firms), from all over Germany and from Switzerland,” she added.

German exports to Iran have grown since the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, adding 15.5 percent last year to reach almost €2.6 billion ($3.0 billion) after 22-percent growth in 2016.

Such figures remain vanishingly small compared with Germany’s €111.5 billion in exports to the US — its top customer.

Nevertheless, the KCI will “wait and see what the sanctions look like” before turning away from Iran, Melfi said.

Already, firms dealing with Tehran must take great care not to fall foul of US restrictions.

Transactions are carried out in euros, and the KCI does not deal with businesses that have American citizens or green card resident holders on their boards.

What’s more, products sold to Iran cannot contain more than 10 percent of parts manufactured in the US.

One of the most important inputs for the business is “courage among our managers” given the high risks involved, Melfi said.

Germany’s two biggest banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, avoid Iran completely after being slapped with harsh fines in 2015 over their dealings there, with Deutsche alone paying $258 million in penalties.

DZ Bank, which operates as a central bank for more than 1,000 local co-op lenders, is withdrawing completely from payment services there, a spokesman told AFP.
That left KCI to seek out the German branch of Iranian state-owned bank Melli in Hamburg.

Even that linkage could break if Iran’s biggest business bank appears on a US list of barred businesses as it has before.

Meanwhile, among Germany’s roughly 390 Sparkasse savings banks, business with the regime is mostly limited to producing documents linked to export contracts.
“We will be looking even more closely at those” in the future, a person familiar with the trade told AFP.

Elsewhere in the German economy, the European-Iranian Trade Bank (EIH) founded in 1971 is another conduit to Tehran.

Also based in Hamburg, it for now remains “fully available to you with our products and services,” the bank assures clients on its website, although “business policy decisions by European banks may result in short term or medium term restrictions on payments.”

Neither does the Bundesbank (German central bank) believe that much has so far changed for business with Iran.

“Only the European Union’s sanctions regime will be decisive,” if and when it is changed, the institution told AFP.

Any payment involving an Iranian party would have to be approved by the Bundesbank if things return to their pre-January 2016 state.

German banking lobby group Kreditwirtschaft has called on Berlin and other EU nations to clarify their stance — and to make sure banks and their clients are “effectively protected against possible American sanctions.”

KCI’s Melfi said time is running out for EU governments to act.

“Many firms just want to stop anything with Iran, since they can’t calculate the risk of staying,” she noted.

On Friday for the first time since the Iran nuclear deal came into force in 2015, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany gathered in Vienna — at Iran’s request — without the US, to discuss how to save the agreement.

FASTFACTS


Fintech makes inroads in US banking market, but revenue share minimal — Accenture

Updated 40 min 47 sec ago
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Fintech makes inroads in US banking market, but revenue share minimal — Accenture

  • Around 19 percent of financial institutions in the US are new entrants, such as challenger banks, non-bank payments institutions and big tech companies
  • New entrants account for 63 percent of financial players in the UK

NEW YORK: Financial technology startups and other new entrants are making inroads in the US banking market, but have yet to capture a threatening share of bank revenues, according to research published by Accenture on Wednesday.
Around 19 percent of financial institutions in the US are new entrants, such as challenger banks, non-bank payments institutions and big tech companies, according to the report. Yet they have amassed only 3.5 percent of the total $1.04 trillion in banking and payment revenues so-far, Accenture found.
In the UK, new entrants have made a larger dent, having captured 14 percent of the total €206 billion ($238.45 billion) in industry revenues, with the majority going to non-bank payments companies, according to the report.
Accenture assessed more than 20,000 banking and payments institutions across seven markets around the world to determine the level of change that digital technologies have brought about in banking.
Since the financial downturn, a growing number of companies across the world have sought to position themselves as cheaper and more user-friendly alternatives to banks by making better use of new technology.
Banking and payments institutions have decreased by nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2017. Still, one in six current institutions is what Accenture considers a new entrant, or companies that have entered the market since 2005.
Their impact has varied by geography.
Tougher regulations and greater dominance of large banks have made the US a more difficult market for new entrants in areas excluding payments, Alan McIntyre, head of Accenture’s global banking practice, said in an interview.
“You still have a very robust banking market in the US,” McIntyre said.
More than half of new current accounts opened in the United States have been captured by three large banks, which have had more money to invest in digital than smaller regional players, he added.
In the UK the situation has been different, thanks in part to a push from regulators aimed at fostering greater competition in the financial sector and diminishing the dominance of large banks.
New entrants account for 63 percent of financial players in the UK, according to the report.
The report also found new entrants are taking over one third of new revenue, pointing to their potential to pose a greater competitive threat going forward.
In Europe, including the UK, 20 percent of banking and payments institutions are new entrants and have captured nearly 7 percent of total banking revenues, according to the report.