The Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CBI; Persian: بانک مرکزی جمهوری اسلامی ايران, aka Bank Markazi-ye Jomhuri-ye Eslāmi-ye Irān) is the central bank of Iran. It is entirely government owned. Among its major purposes are: maintenance of the value of the national currency (rial), balance of payments as well as facilitating trade transactions and contributing to the economic advancement of the country. The Central bank is in charge of laying and implementing monetary and credit policies of the country. The importation of goods, issuance of documentary credits and registration of orders for documentary bills of exchange for imports are also done in accordance with the policies of the Central Bank. It is a member central bank of the Asian Clearing Union.
During the Achaemenid era, trade boomed and subsequently banking operation expanded to an extent that Iranians managed to learn the banking method from the people of Babylon.
The first attempt at introducing paper currency in Iran occurred during the MongolIlkhanate of the 13th century CE. The innovation, developed in Song DynastyChina, did not take hold in Iran, and paper currency did not return to Iran in any significant manner for several centuries.
To compete with the British bank, Imperial Russia also opened the Russian Loan and Development Bank.
The first state owned Iranian bank, Bank Melli Iran was established in 1927 by the government of Iran. The bank's primary objective was to facilitate government's financial transactions and to print and distribute the Iranian currency (rial and toman). For more than 33 years, Bank Melli Iran was acting as the central bank of Iran with the responsibility to maintain the value of Iranian rial.
Former building of Iran's Central Bank
In August 1960, the Iranian government established the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and separated all central banking responsibilities from Bank Melli Iran and assigned it to the newly formed central bank.
The Central Bank of Iran was renamed to "the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran" immediately after the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Scope and responsibilities of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CBI) have been defined in the Monetary and Banking Law of Iran. Iran’s banking system adhered to the new Islamic rules that prohibit earning or paying interest.
CBI maintains a museum of historic and ancient jewelry owned and used by the ex-kings of Persia. This museum houses the Imperial Crown Jewels and is one of the most appealing tourist attractions in Iran.
Seven economists with at least 15 years of work experience were to become members of the general assembly according to a new law proposed by the Majlis in 2010, thus moving this body from being state-dominated to one where the private sector has greater say in the decision making process. Tenure of each member would be for 10 years and only for one term. Then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad critiqued this proposal and said that it is important for the Central Bank of Iran not to fall under private control "because it would not benefit the Iranian people" over the long run.
The President of Iran proposes a person as the governor of CBI, who must be verified by the general assembly and appointed as per a presidential decree. The governors of Central Bank of Iran are as follows:
After the Islamic Revolution, the Central Bank was mandated to establish an Islamic banking law. In 1983 the Islamic Banking law of Iran was passed by Majlis. This law describes and authorizes an Iranian Shiite version of Islamic commercial laws (as differentiated from a less 'liberal' Sunni version). According to this law, Iranian banks can only engage in interest-free Islamic transactions (as interest is considered usury or "riba" and is forbidden by Islam and the holy book of Qur’an). These are commercial transactions that involve exchange of goods and services in return for a share of the "provisional profit" called Mobadala.
In practice, Iran uses what are officially termed "provisional" interest rates, as rates paid to depositors or received from borrowers should reflect the profits or losses of a business. Under these rules, deposit rates, known as "dividends", are in theory related to a bank's profitability. In reality, however, these dividends have become fixed rates of return—depositors have never lost their savings because of losses made by the banks and almost never received returns larger than the provisional ex-ante profit rates. Interest charged on loans is presented as "fees" or a share of corporate profits. All such transactions are performed through Islamic contracts, such as Mozarebe, Foroush Aghsati, Joalah, Salaf, and Gharzolhasaneh. Details of these contracts and related practices are outlined in the Iranian Interest-Free banking law and its guidelines:
Gharzolhasaneh: An interest-free, non-profit, loan extended by a bank to a real or legal person for a definite period of time.
Joalah: The undertaking by one party (the jael, Bank or employer) to pay a specified money (the joal) to another party in return for rendering a specified service in accordance with the terms of the contract. The party rendering the service shall be called "Amel" (the Agent or Contractor).
Mosaqat: A contract between the owner of an orchard or garden with another party (the Amel or Agent) for the purpose of gathering the harvest of the orchard or garden and dividing it, in a specified ratio, between the two parties . The harvest can be fruit, leaves, flowers, etc. of the plants in the orchard or garden .
Mozaraah: A contract where the bank (the Mozare) turns over a specified plot of land for a specified period of time to another party (the Amel or Agent) for the purpose of farming the land and dividing the harvest between the two parties at a specified ratio.
Mozarebe: A contract wherein the bank undertakes to provide the cash capital and other party (the Amel or Avent) undertakes to use the capital for commercial purposes and divide the profit at a specified ratio between the two parties at the end of the term of the contract.
Critics believe that the Iranian Interest-Free banking law has simply created the context for legitimizing usury or riba. In reality all banks are charging their borrowers a fixed pre-set amount at a rate of interest that is approved by the Central Bank at least once a year. No goods or services are exchanged as part of these contracts and banks rarely assume any Commercial Risk. High value collateral items such as real estate, commercial paper, bank guarantees and machinery eliminate any risk of loss. In case of defaults or bankruptcies, the principal amount, the expected interest and the late fees are collected through possession and or sale of secured collaterals.
Iran does not have any special credit rating institute for customer’s credibility rating but all Iranian banks obligated to send statistics of bounced check to central bank of Iran. However follow up on bounced checks are a difficult task.
In 2010, "Iran Credit Rating Consulting Company" became Iran's first credit agency by decree of the CBI.
In 2005, the government obliged the Central Bank of Iran and the Iranian banks, mostly state owned, to set up all the necessary infrastructures (regulatory, hardware, software) for fully launching e-money in Iran by March 2005. While this plan has not yet fully materialized, local debit cards are now commonplace and have removed the main obstacle to the growth of e-commerce (in the national scale) as well as the full roll out of e-government initiatives. Iran remains largely a cash-based economy.
The Central Bank has developed the Real Time Gross Settlement System (SATNA) as the main center for settlement of Iranian banks' transactions in rial. Upon implementation of the first and second phases of this system in 2006/07, real time settlement through the interbank information transfer network (Shetab Banking System) and interbank clearing house was started in the review year. Since 2007/08, bank-to-bank and customer-to-customer payments were also settled through SATNA. The Retail Funds Transfer System (SAHAB), launched at end-2006/07 for real time transfer of a large volume of payments of relatively small value, was further developed in 2007/08. Moreover, there are further plans to connect Iran's SHETAB to information transfer networks of other countries.
In 2011 2 new payment systems were launched: Scripless Securities Settlement System (TABA) as the electronic infrastructure for placement and settlement of various securities, including governmental and CBI participation papers. The launching of the automated clearing house system (PAYA) for processing individual and multiple payment orders, connection of Iran's Interbank Information Transfer Network (SHETAB) to other ATM and POS switch systems for the acceptance of international bank cards, designing of the electronic card payment system (SHAPARAK) for the centralization and reorganization of POSs.
As of January 21, 2010 account holders will no longer be allowed to withdraw more than $15,000 from Iranian banks but they can still write checks for larger amounts. The government wants people to use bank checks and electronic banking systems instead of cash transactions. 10.7% of cheques written in 2009 bounced.
In 2007, Tetra-Tech IT Company announced that using Visa and MasterCard is now possible for online sales and in Iranian e-card terminals at shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies for Iranians and foreign tourists.Iran's electronic commerce will reach 10 trillion rials ($1 billion) by March 2009. As of 2015, Iranian consumers have very little debt. Some wealthier people have debit cards, but there is no MasterCard, Visa or American Express in Iran and few foreign banks are active there because of international sanctions. Around 94% of Iranians had a debit card, compared with less than 20% in Egypt (2015).
Many Iranian businesses and individuals also rely on hawala, an informal trust-based money transfer system that exists in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. Since the imposition of recent U.S. and UN financial sanctions on Iran, the use of hawala by Iranians reportedly has increased.
The Central Bank of Iran is enforcing the newly-passed Anti-Money Laundering law to curb possible crime. The minister of intelligence, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and several other ministers are among the members of the special committee in charge of the campaign against money laundering. In 2008, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Watchdog praised the Islamic Republic's crackdown on money laundering. The 34-member financial watchdog congratulated Tehran on its commitment to seal money laundering loopholes. However, in 2010, FATF, named Ecuador and Iran on a list of states that it says are failing to comply with international regulations against money laundering and financing terrorism.
Projections by the Economist in 2010 place Iran's nominal GDP at $701.9 billion in 2013. The Economist's 2010-revised projections for GDP growth in Iran are: 3.0% (2010); 3.0% (2011); 2.9% (2012); 3.1% (2013); 2.9% (2014); 2.9% (2015).
Debt: The government's and banks' debts to the central bank dropped from 905,926 billion rials (about 90 billion dollars) in November 2008 to about 776,486 billion rials (about 77 billion dollars) in November 2009. According to CBI reports, the value of its assets fell by 11.6 percent during the last 12 months to 1,137,455 rials in November 2009. Meanwhile, the total debt of 11 state-run banks alone to the Central Bank of Iran has exceeded $32 billion in 2009, showing a ten-fold increase over the past four years. Bank Melli Iran, with nearly $9 billion, had the biggest debt followed by Bank Sepah, Iran's oldest, with about $4.8 billion. Bank Maskan, Keshavarzi Bank, Bank of Industry and Mines and the Export Development Bank of Iran were next with the respective debts of $4.7, $4.1, $3.5 and $1.1 billion. Private-sector banks had much lower debts. Bank Parsian, the largest private-run bank, owed about $421 million to the Central Bank. In addition, the collective debt of state-sector companies to the Central Bank has reached $25 billion (2009).
Overdue loans: According to unofficial figures, overdue loans have reached IR 175,000 billion ($17.8 billion, €13.6 billion, £11 billion), an increase of 75 per cent over three years (November 2008). Plan to inject about $13 billion to recapitalize the banking sector (2008) Ninety individuals have managed to secure collective facilities totaling $8 billion from Iranian banks, with previous $27 billion unpaid loans (2009). In October 2009, Iran's General Inspection Office informed that Iranian banks have some USD 38 billion of delinquent loans, while they are only capitalized at USD 20 billion. Current average for late debts of Iran's state banks is over 15 percent while the global standard is 3 to 5 percent.
In 2007, 10% of the reserves were held in gold, 20% in US dollars (down from 40% in 2006), the rest mostly in Euro and other major currencies (i.e., Yen, British Pound and the Swiss Franc). In 2009, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the replacement of the US dollar by the euro in the country's foreign exchange accounts because "it would help decouple Iran from the US banking system."
In October 2010, Iran's gold reserves hit "record high" as the Central Bank took "preventive measures" to avoid a possible asset freeze by Western countries. In 2009, when the gold price was on average $656 per once, a "few hundred tons" of gold were imported, IRNA quoted CBI Governor Mahmoud Bahmani. "At present, the price of each ounce of gold is $1,230. Consequently, the value of the national reserves has risen by a few billion dollars" he said. Iran has changed 15% of its foreign exchange reserves into gold as the number is 1.7% for countries such as India and China (see also: U.S. sanctions against Iran.)
In January 2012, the head of Tehran's Chamber of Commerce reported that Iran had 907 tons of gold, purchased at an average of $600 per ounce and worth $54 billion at today's price. The CBI governor however reports only 500 tons (i.e. above ground gold reserves). The discrepancy is unexplained but the 907 tons could (mistakenly) include below-ground gold reserves (320 metric tons as of 2012) and possibly the gold in Iranian private hands (~100 tons in coins, jewelry or bullion). In 2014, reports from the Central Bank put its gold stores at 90 tons only, the rest possibly used in barter trade following sanctions.
Iran's foreign debt: $22.07 billion in 2010 ($10.6 billion of short-term debts and $11.4 billion of mid-term and long-term debts).
Iran's deposits in foreign banks: stand at $35 billion while its obligations amount to $25 billion (2007). In 2007, Iran had $62 billion worth of assets held abroad. According to the Bank for International Settlements, Iran's deposits with 39 world banks reached $15.44 billion at the end of March 2012 while its obligations stood at $10.088 billion. In addition it was reported that Iran had between 10-20 billion dollars held in foreign banks in 2011, allegedly because of payment problems by foreign companies to Iran. According to E.U. sources, despite the European sanctions, Iran has still "several billion euros" deposited in accounts in Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece and Switzerland (2012). As at 2013, only $30 billion to $50 billion of its foreign exchange reserves (i.e. roughly 50% of total) is accessible because of the international sanctions.
Transactions: Foreign transactions with Iran amounted to $150 billion between 2000 and 2007 worth of major contracts and both private and government lines of credit. According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the balance of Iran’s foreign exchange interactions in foreign banks and financial institutes during Q3 2008 stood above $24.3 billion.
Iran's oil and gas projected revenues chart by the International Monetary Fund. On the other side, Iranian officials estimate that Iran's annual oil and gas revenues could reach $250 billion by 2015.
Unemployment rate, per-capita income growth and minimum wage in Iran (2000-2009).
since the Revolution the government’s general budget payments have averaged 59 percent for social affairs, 17 percent for economic affairs, 15 percent for national defense, and 13 percent for general affairs.
Less than a quarter of Iran's market liquidity is directed towards productivity. The rest is used in trade (e.g. import/export), speculative investments or simply deposited into bank accounts (hard currency).
Double digit inflation rates have been a fact of life in Iran for the past 20 years. Between 2002 and 2006, the rate of inflation in Iran has been fluctuating between 12 and 16%.
Monetary policy in Iran has not been successful in meeting the inflation and monetary targets set in the Iranian Five-Year Development Plans, owing mainly to the monetary impact of government spending out of oil revenue. Although the attainment of the inflation targets has improved somewhat recently, the objective of a gradual disinflation to single-digit levels has not been achieved. Moreover, the implicit intermediate target of monetary policy, money growth, has been systematically missed.
The Central Bank is an extension of the Iranian government and as such it does not operate independently. Interest rate is usually set based on political priorities and not monetary targets. There is little alignment between fiscal and monetary policy.
High levels of inflation have also been associated with a growth in Iran's money supply. The Central Bank's data suggest that the money supply growth has been about 40% annually. The rapid growth of money supply came from high demands for borrowing capital at the rate of 12% the banks offer, imposed by the Government to make credit accessible to average Iranians and small entrepreneurs. However, this rate is lower than the rate of inflation. This makes the cost of borrowing less than free market cost as determined by supply and demand, based on the inflation rate and investment risk.
Credit ceiling - the CBI can intervene in and supervise monetary and banking affairs through limiting banks, specifying the mechanisms for use of funds and determining the ceiling of loans and credits in each sector.
The US Treasury Department has also stepped up its attempt to restrict financing of foreign investment and trade with Iran. In January 2006, Swiss banksUBS and Credit Suisse announced separately that they were halting operations in Iran. In September 2006 the Treasury Department banned all dealings by Bank Saderat Iran with the US financial system, and in January 2007 it also blacklisted Bank Sepah and its British subsidiary, Bank Sepah International. In October 2007 the US Treasury blacklisted Bank Melli and Bank Mellat.
Under pressure from the US, 12 Chinese banks have reduced ties with Iranian banks since early September 2007, but five of them resumed commercial ties in mid-January 2008. In mid-February 2008, the US Treasury alleged that Iran's Central Bank helped the blacklisted banks evade US sanctions, by conducting transactions for them.
The Central Bank possesses limited foreign cash reserves due to the international sanctions and problems in the transfer of funds in and out of country. In 2012, The U.S. unilaterally expanded sanctions, which cut off from the US financial system foreign firms that do business with the central bank. Iran is reportedly making increasing use of barter trade, cash smuggling, gold and local currencies of its trading partners to circumvent the international sanctions. The CBI has been blacklisted by the U.S. government due to the bank's involvement in the Iranian nuclear program and it has been blocked from using SWIFT since March 2012 as a consequence.
The Central Bank of Iran publishes a variety of periodicals for general and specialist audiences including Economic Trends, Bulletin, Annual Review, Economic Report and Balance Sheet. Other publications include booklets, monographs and brochures. Many of those documents are also available in English.