1960: Foreign Trade Bank of Iran (Fortrabank), in which Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI) held a stake, established in Tehran.
1975: BCI representative office opened in Tehran.
1975: Banco Ambrosiano representative office opened in Tehran through the Inter-Alpha Group.
2004: Sanpaolo IMI Italian desk opened in Tehran through the Inter-Alpha Group.
During Iran's brief experience of democratic government under the leadership of Mohammed Mossadeq (1951-1953), Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI) sent Leo Valiani - who also acted as a representative for Mediobanca - to Tehran to seek out business opportunities for Italian companies, thereby strengthening Italy's commercial ties with Iran and facilitating its exports. However, the time did not yet seem ripe for establishing a direct presence in the country, so BCI decided to continue to operate through correspondent banks.
In 1960 BCI acquired a 14.5% stake in the Foreign Trade Bank of Iran (Fortrabank), which had taken over the assets and liabilities of the Export Development Bank of Tehran and in which Bank Melli Iran held a controlling interest (51%). Although it was not a large institution, Fortrabank proved dynamic and efficient, and achieved impressive results.
In the 1970s BCI decided that it was imperative to establish a direct presence in one of the largest oil-producing countries in the Middle East, also given the bank's excellent relations with its Iranian economic partners. The bank opened its first representative office in Tehran in 1975; several years would pass before any other foreign representative offices were opened there.
Despite the 1979 overthrow of the Western-allied Shah, Mohammad Reza Phalavi, and Iran's subsequent transformation into an Islamic Republic, the BCI office worked tirelessly to facilitate relations between the two countries and to boost exports to Iran. In 1997, for example, it entered into an agreement with Bank Markazi Jomhouri Islami and other Iranian governmental banks to open a line of credit for Italian exporters.
Banco Ambrosiano (BA), too, launched activities in Iran in 1975 through an Inter-Alpha Group representative office in Tehran, but its experience in the country was short-lived, coming to an end in 1982. BCI carried on its own activities there until merging into Banca Intesa, which then took up the job itself.