The Association of Serbian Banks has spent a full 100 years improving the banking system and the services that banks provide to clients, but it also represents our banking sector in international associations and institutions. Through its committees, it brings together representatives of all 26 banks in Serbia
Despite the pandemic, which has lasted a full year, our banking sector is stable. We have a stable domestic currency and a level of risky loans that’s never been lower. This shows that a positive framework exists and we should use the opportunity in the period ahead to raise banking services to a higher level, says Secretary General of the Association of Serbian Banks Vladimir Vasić.
Near the end of this year, on 4th December 2021, the Association of Serbian Banks will celebrate the centenary of its operations. This has been a period of many exciting years for the entire banking sector.
Many revolutionary events have occurred during this 100-year period, not only in the banking and financial sector, but at the level of civilisation. One of the things that has remained constant, and is most important to us, as an association of banks, is that banks still have a need to maintain a central base, through which they can organise and improve their operations.
Your aims have hardly changed since your association was first established, with the Association of Serbian Banks continuing to represent, protect and advance the operations of its members to this day. Has something else changed?
If we look at the century behind us, almost everything is different now. Changes are today happening across all aspects of life, faster than ever. Digitisation is transforming us on a daily basis, and not just in our daily routines. The essence of business operations, as well as the survival and functioning of many businesses, demands adaptation to the digital environment. That is our reality now.
Until now, banks have been synonymous with large stone buildings in which serious businesspeople sit in their suits, but for the new generations a bank is a mobile application through which each client can manage their finances independently.
Can you tell us something about the way the Association functions, about its special organisational units, expert committees etc.?
The Association of Serbian Banks brings together representatives of all 26 banks operating in Serbia, engaging them in the work of its committees, each of which is designated to specific expert fields. It is a tremendous hub of knowledge in all segments of banking and finance in general. In addition, the ASB has its own team of experts and its own Banking Training Centre, which is an important link for improving the entire banking sector. The Credit Bureau is also part of ASB – without it, banking would be impossible in Serbia today, and our individual lives themselves would be very different. There is no individual or company that hasn’t needed the ASB Credit Bureau to solve a certain financial issue at some point. Through all these organisational units, the ASB primarily improves the banking system and the services that banks provide to clients, but it also strives to represent our banking sector in international associations and institutions.
The banking sector provided support to citizens and the economy, both of which were threatened by the economic repercussions of the pandemic
How do you assess the current situation in the banking sector? How great an impact did the pandemic have?
The pandemic was a great practical test for the entire Serbian banking sector, and we are very pleased to have passed this test with flying colours. The banking sector not only managed to sustain itself during the crisis, but also provided support to citizens and the economy, both of which were threatened by the economic repercussions of the pandemic. From March 2020 until today, the banking sector has provided clients with three options for postponing the repaying of liabilities to banks. The Guarantee Scheme of the Government of the Republic of Serbia has been implemented through banks, which have been at the continuous service of clients, throughout the crisis, even during the complete lockdown, all the while maintaining their high-performance levels, stability and adequate capital coverage. The value of activities with which banks have supported companies and citizens in Serbia totals around seven billion euros.
Does the existing legislative framework provide the necessary security and opportunities for the development of the Serbian banking sector?
The current stable state of the banking sector is indeed the outcome of many years of good work by the legislative and monetary authorities in Serbia. Thanks to their work, we now have foreign investors entering the banking sector, including the most recent purchase of Komercijalna Banka by NLB Bank, which is headquartered in Slovenia. We have a stable domestic currency and the historically lowest NPL risk. This shows that there is a positive framework and that it is up to us to use the opportunity to elevate banking services to a higher level in the coming period.
You recently received a special Digital Life award for outstanding contributions to the digitisation of banking in Serbia, on behalf of the Association. How will digitisation progress and develop further?
This recognition award delighted us, because digitisation has been at the very top of the Association’s priorities for the last few years. If the public recognises that, it means that we have successfully progressed towards achieving this goal. As for digitisation, it is now both inevitable and accelerated. It is quite clear that all jobs will be digitised, except for a small few where it is literally impossible and where a share of manual labour is necessary. The sooner we understand this, the faster we will adapt, and we will be able to take an even greater advantage of the benefits brought by digitisation.
What are the trends for this year and next? Will banks really be wherever we are, i.e., where our mobile phone is?
I would say that this is already the case now, and that this will become even more noticeable in the coming years. We will also have some services at our disposal that we can hardly even imagine today. At the moment, most banks’ mobile applications offer practically all the services that exist on their websites and most of the services that customers could possibly need. With video identification and the linking of information systems of banks and some institutions, the need for clients to physically visit their bank branch will become less frequent. As for everyday life, the need for cash will either decrease or cease to exist entirely. We can make non-cash payments, since we have the possibilities of using IPS QR codes, electronic and mobile banking, PayPal etc.