World  Business and Economic Analysis 



Heinrich Matthee

Since the nuclear deal, European companies have been flocking in trade missions to Iran. These companies often also enjoy the support of national and regional governments from Germany and France to Italy or the Netherlands. However, their main obstacle at present is the lack of active support by their preferred financial lenders.
Several major European banks have stated that they are not prepared to do business in Iran at this stage. These banks include Germany’s Deutsche Bank, Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group and the U.K.’s Standard Chartered.
The considerable potential in Iran is as apparent to these banks as to European companies. The inhibitions of European banks are rooted in the USA. They remain scared of running afoul of remaining US sanctions on Iran.
Painful recent examples keep them alert to the potential drawbacks. BNP Paribas had to pay a record $9 billion US fine partly due to its dealings with Iran. The German Commerzbank agreed to pay $1.45 billion in 2015 in an investigation into whether it breached US sanctions against countries including Iran.
Thus, a major French bank like Société Générale indicated in May 2016 that it does not plan to restart activities in Iran given the “strong operational risks for financial institutions.” SWIFT, the global bank transactions network, has been reconnected to Iran, but remains dormant.
It will for now remain difficult to finance major projects and operations. European businesses will either have to find funders or the contracts will not be finalized. For smaller projects, European businesses may find lenders like the Belgian KBC and smaller German banks. Invoicing in Euro and other non-dollar denominations will remain advisable for some time.   
However, for bigger projects, the funding issue will remain and has now landed on the agenda of European economic diplomacy too.

Several European governments have started talks with U.S. authorities to get a commitment that banks can do business without incurring legal woes.
European trade diplomats indicate that there is progress but that it will take time to resolve all the issues. There have been tense US-Iran relations for almost a quarter-century. The financial issue clearly remains a bargaining chip for some US actors.
The US political position over the long term will also play a role in the reticence of some European banks. After all, the outcome of the US presidential elections in November and the actual policies of a new president remains unclear. These banks do not want to be caught in a new political minefield.
Thus, for major projects, the funding issue will take time to resolve. It will also remain important for many European companies to understand the ownership and control of their counterparts in Iran. External stakeholder and reputation management and embedding corporate governance standards in their operations remain on the agenda of many.
In this regard, a remark by Hans-Peter Rapp-Frick, the CEO of the German regional trade association SIHK, deserves attention. One of the biggest drivers of Iranian-European business ties is that Iran’s actors do not only want to conduct business, but that people also want to continue building something of value in Iran.  Despite current obstacles, Iran’s potential will continue to attract European business interest. Those businesses with a longer view, persistence and a commitment to Iranian society will have the greater chances for success.   

Dr. Heinrich Matthee is a director of JISR, an EU-based strategic advisory firm.

Add comment

Security code

کتاب عملیات بانکی در عرصه بین الملل -سرفصل ها،ضمائم ،توصیه صاحب‏نظران ارزی و مدیران ارشد بانکی

Investment Consulting &Project Finance


Sign up for our newsletter