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​For the Vatican bank, a new direction means profitability

May 28, 2015 | posted by Catholic News Agency

Topics: News Updates from Rome


For the Vatican bank, a new direction means profitability 

The Vatican Bank’s net profits in 2014 jumped to $75.5 million from only $3.2 million the previous year, reflecting a change in its financial management and investments.

The Institute for Religious Works (IOR), known informally as the 'Vatican bank', released its third annual report on May 25. The report registered a massive increase in net profits.

This increase may be attributed both to a sharp rise in the bank’s net trading income and to a decline of its extraordinary operating expenses, like the costs of hiring external consultants to monitor and screen the IOR accounts.

The increase in net profit is also a result of the financial policy now underway that is aimed at generating more profits. According to the IOR, there will be “a shift by the IOR’s clients away from term deposits and toward asset management solutions, confirming a long-term trend.”

Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, president of the IOR’s Board of Superintendents, said that “the main focus is fundamentally improving our overall client service standards and further professionalizing our asset management services.”

The IOR “has mostly worked with term deposits, which generate a low, but safe, profit,” an inside source who has observed the works of the IOR told CNA May 25.

The source said that since 2008, “the need to generate more revenues has caused a shift in the Institute’s investment plan, following a path that the Vatican economic reform accelerated.”

The IOR assets under management have grown from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion, while client deposits have decreased from about $3.5 billion to under $2.3 billion. Combined with assets under custody, the Vatican Bank was overseeing $6.5 billion in assets at the close of 2014.

In July 2014 Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, announced a major reform of the Vatican economy. He said that the reform needs to be effective and able “to generate revenues.” According to the goals of this reform, the management of Vatican assets are to be transferred to a new body, the Vatican Asset Management, which has yet to be established.

In the meantime, the IOR has carried forward its commitment to reform. De Franssu stressed that “the long-term, strategic plan of the Institute revolves around two key objectives: putting the interests of the clients first by offering appropriate and improved services and by (lessening the risk) of the activities of the Institute.”

De Franssu added that "all this is done within the strong regulatory framework now in place in the Vatican and in close cooperation with the Authority for Financial Information, the Holy See regulator."

The 2014 profit will allow the bank to turn over almost $60 million to the Holy See for charitable purposes at the discretion of the Pope, pending the approval of the IOR cardinals’ commission.
In 2013, despite its small profit, the Vatican Bank turned over to the Holy See almost $59 million, drawing from its reserves.

The Vatican bank says it has progressed in screening its accounts. According to its report, the IOR ended relationships with more than 3,100 of almost 20,000 clients since May 2013. Most of these were dormant accounts. In 550 of these cases, client relationships were ended because the IOR did not find an acceptable client profile.

According to the IOR statement, Pope Francis asked the Vatican bank “to continue to serve with prudence and to provide specialized financial services to the Catholic Church worldwide, thereby assisting him in his mission as universal pastor.

“To that extent the IOR’s management had been tasked to finalize a plan for the future of the Institute accordingly, which has subsequently been developed in 2014,” the IOR said.

The IOR has also worked to adhere to Vatican regulatory standards including those of the Authority for Financial Information, the Vatican financial watchdog, whose regulation on supervision of Vatican entities carrying out professional financial activities took force on Jan. 13, 2015.

These regulatory efforts are an outcome of a years-long commitment. In July 2012 the Council of Europe’s anti-money-laundering committee Moneyval found the Vatican “compliant” or “largely compliant” on nine of its 16 key areas for combating terrorist financing and money laundering.

The Moneyval report indicated that the Vatican bank's security standards surpass those required by Vatican law and that Vatican legislation on secrecy is compliant with international standards. The report also praised the high level of Vatican engagement in international cooperation.

“The Holy See has come a long way in a very short period of time,” the Moneyval report said, adding that “many of the building blocks” of rules to counter money laundering and terrorism financing are now formally in place.