EghtesadOnline: Economy Minister Ali Tayyebnia has called on Bank Melli Iran, the nation's biggest lender, to be at the vanguard of much-needed reforms in the ailing banking sector by supporting businesses, reducing interest rates and developing Internet banking.
"As a leading bank in financing small- and medium-sized enterprises, BMI must engage in measures to bankroll businesses and play an effective role," Tayyebnia was also quoted as saying by IBENA.
As the Central Bank of Iran announced early June, 300 trillion rials ($8 billion) are to be allocated by the banking system this year with the SMEs as "the first priority".
The minister was speaking at an event held to mark the inauguration of BMI's museum in Tehran, which coincides with the lender's 90th founding anniversary. Owing to the significance of the lender for the banking system, First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri and the head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Zahra Ahmadipour were present, alongside BMI board members and CEO Mohammad Reza Hosseinzadeh, according to Financial Tribune.
Echoing his past remarks, Tayyebnia referred to high bank interest rates as a serious dilemma, adding that considering the longstanding experience of BMI in risk control, "we expect it to be a leading voice in reducing interest rates".
Last year, following the agreement of private and state-owned banks' CEOs and a subsequent verdict by the Money and Credit Council, deposit and interest rates were set at 15% and 18% respectively. But because of a shortage of resources, lenders did not stick to these rates and offered them at higher figures.
Tayyebnia also pointed to the efforts of the state-owned bank in taming its ratio of non-performing loans to total loans, saying the bank is expected to conform to international standards.
As announced recently, Bank Melli Iran registered a relatively good performance in reducing its NPL ratio and brought it down to 7.8%, but it is still a far cry from the international standards of around 4%. The bank also plans to establish a debt collection agency by the end of the current fiscal year in March 2018.
The economy minister also urged BMI to use the opportunities created as a result of the nuclear deal, strive harder in line with the general policy of shedding excess assets and lead the charge in employing information technology and online banking to improve transparency and fight corruption.
Jahangiri stressed the role of banks in developing the economy, conceding that lenders are facing many problems that have been publicized.
"However, it would not be fair to only inflate the problems and ignore the services because we must all join hands to overcome the problems," he added.
The official stressed the need for reducing interest rates, increasing the capital of banks, absorbing foreign resources and financing the private sector.
12% Rate Possible
Bank Mellat CEO confirmed recent talks that bank interest rates are to be brought down to as low as 12%, saying "suggestions are for the rates to go below 15% and to reach the rates that have been put forward".
Hosseinzadeh announced that since the implementation of the nuclear accord in January 2016, his bank has managed to establish 140 correspondent banking relations and is currently engaging in negotiations with 180 other banks to establish more links.
"During this period, more than €20 billion worth of foreign exchange transactions were made and €2 billion worth of letters of credit were opened," he added.
According to the chief executive, who is also the head of the Coordination Council of State-Owned Banks, the lender managed to upgrade its currency balance considerably and brought it up to €500 million from the previous €1.6 billion in the negative at the height of sanctions.
He said Bank Melli Iran has devised a roadmap to decrease its ratio of NPLs to 5% within the next two years.
Hosseinzadeh concluded by saying that Bank Melli will also focus on supporting the activities of startups and knowledge-based companies in the current fiscal year.