After months studying the drivers of financial health and mobile and internet usage in eastern Europe, I was excited when our team finally landed in Serbia. During the hour-long taxi ride from Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport to Novi Sad, we finalized our work plan for the coming days while catching glimpses of the countryside.
We came to Serbia to join our colleagues at the Microfinance Centre (MFC) in conducting in-depth interviews with current and prospective customers of Opportunity Bank Serbia and Fundacja Innowacja i Wiedza (Foundation for Innovation and Knowledge). We wanted to learn everything we could about the interviewees’ ambitions, challenges, attitudes, and technology use, so we can use these insights to design and develop a digital tool that will help clients understand and improve their financial health. This research is part of the Building Financial Capabilities & Strengthening Institutions through Customer-Centered Innovations project, supported by MetLife Foundation.
Euros vs. dinars: Serbia’s dual-currency dynamic
As we pulled up to the hotel, I was perplexed when our driver, Božidar, quoted the cab fare in euros. Last time I checked, the dinar was the currency of Serbia, since it remains an EU candidate country. Yet Božidar demanded that we pay him in euros, as did many other local vendors. We discovered that our interviewees commonly use euros alongside dinars. One farmer said that she quickly deposits any payments made in euros, but she tends to use her dinars for everyday purchases or stash them at home for emergencies. A shop owner said the majority of her suppliers pay her in euros while she accepts payments from customers in both currencies.
The trend of “euroization” or “dollarization” — a foreign currency substituting or complementing the domestic one — is well studied. The graph below, from the Austrian central bank’s Euro Survey, shows that among its neighbors in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe, Serbia is the most euroized, with the highest proportion of all its cash and deposits held in the form of euros.