The future’s bright, the future’s inconvenient

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What’s in a name? Plenty, it seems, if it’s similar to one on a sanctions list.

Fund managers, lawyers, intermediaries, advisers and bankers are all trying to work out whom it will be safe to do business with when Iran opens up to a post-sanctions environment, probably early next year.

The problem is, at least 200 institutions and individuals remain very much off-limits, and it is not straightforward to work out who, or what, is linked to them. With many of the world’s biggest financial institutions having been fined heavily for breaching sanctions in recent years, caution is the watchword.

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For example, a recurrent theme is the question of whether Ayandeh Bank is off-limits. On a first glance, no: it’s not on a sanctions list, and is in some sense a success story, involving a merger between a bank, two financial institutions and 10 credit co-operatives, several of them failed institutions, into a broadly functioning whole.

The problem is, Ayandeh’s name means Future. And there is a bank in Bahrain called Future Bank, which was sanctioned by the US in 2008. This has prompted a wave of due diligence inquiries, doubts and whispers, apparently through no fault of the Iranian bank’s.

You would have thought that calling a bank 'Future’ would be a sign of optimism and forward thinking. It is instead likely to turn into a problematic pain in the neck. Expect a great deal more of this in the year ahead.