Outlook on Serbian fintech and ICT for the UK market, by BSCC and Emerging Europe

Following the signing of a trade agreement in April between the United Kingdom and Serbia, the British-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Emerging Europe, organised an online seminar — the first in a series — focused on joint business opportunities for British and Serbian companies.

The online webinar began with a fireside chat between Andrew Wrobel, founding partner of Emerging Europe, and Dr David Landsman, chairman of the British-Serbian Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s gratifying to see that Serbia and the UK are among the top countries for Covid vaccination.

We at the BSCC really feel we got some positive news. The continuity trade agreement between our two countries was signed on April 19 and that will ensure preferential trade between our two countries much along the same lines as before,” said Dr Landsman.

“Why Serbia? You don’t have to take our word for it, you don’t have to believe the Chamber of Commerce. Just look at all the German, Italian, Chinese and other companies that have developed very successful relationships in Serbia and ask them about the opportunities,” he continued.

Mr Wrobel quoted a recent study by Emerging Europe looking at IT in the region, saying that while Serbia ranked seventh overall. It was second in the talent component.

“When you look at the number of IT students per 100,000 inhabitants only Estonia performs better than Serbia. Serbia has 325 students per 100,000 people. But it’s not only talent; it’s also the development of certain areas like blockchain, gaming and digitalisation of public services,” he added.

Wrobel also said that it was time to stop talking about the region as a “low cost” destination.

“Right now, what we need to be looking at is value for money, a greater quality which is maybe a bit cheaper, and greater quality is definitely on offer from Serbia. And we need to be continually feeding the UK market with information about the development of the ICT market in Serbia because that needs to be a constant, not just a one-off. There’s already a step forward with these webinars, I am glad this is happening because it’s time for British companies to learn about ICT opportunities in Serbia,” he continued.

The second part of the webinar, moderated by Filip Banković, chief technology officer and executive director of international markets development at Roaming Networks, looked at specific examples of Serbian ICT and fintech and included an excellent line-up of experts: Nebojša Đurđević, CEO at Digital Serbia Initiative, Milan Simić, CEO at EneTel Solutions d.o.o., Dr Dejan Vukobratvoić, professor at Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Nataša Skrbić, a project coordinator and Business Analyst at Digital Serbia Initiative, Marija Ilić, co-founder and CPO at Two Desperados and president of the board of the Serbian Gaming Association, and Vuk Mirković, executive director and founder at Razor Communications.

Nebojša Đurđević: “A digital economy requires talent. Everyone needs to have an understanding of ICT and algorithms. […] Serbia has over 30,000 specialists working in more than 2,000 companies. The value of the market is estimated at over 1.3 billion euros. Why? Serbia has a strong talent pool: deep roots in good education in the field of engineering, AI. IT education is obligatory in Serbia from grade five, for high schoolers who wish to specialise more courses are offered, and there are new masters studies programmes that are multidisciplinary, combining IT with business and economy. Serbia has improved as a business environment: there are strong R&D incentives and only three per cent corporate income tax.”

Milan Simić: “The most important thing is quality labour, excellent engineers and a growing talent pool. We are talking about 60 and more per cent of highly skilled labour in the whole of the labour pool. We are talking about competitive corporate taxation, we are talking about regulatory frameworks which support ICT companies, then it’s a good, easily accessible location. Both Belgrade and Serbia as a whole have modern infrastructure. Just like all the other emerging European countries, we started as an outsourcing destination. In the meantime, everything changed, as you can see the European Innovation Scoreboard for Serbia is really high, we are in the upper part of the list. Also, Serbia is in a good position in the Global Innovation Index, and it’s all tied to the talent index that Andrew already mentioned. As a result, today more companies are working on product and smart solutions than on traditional outsourcing.“

Dr Dejan Vukobratović: “In terms of the number of researchers Serbia is very strong, a regional power. The dominant percentage of these researchers are in STEM. We are very proud that more than 50 per cent of them are women. If you see the number, how much is invested in Serbia, it’s less than one per cent of GDP which is still below EU standards but the link here shows that we’re a strong outlier between European and worldwide countries in terms of how much you get from each pound invested. Research production is really punching above its weight in terms of how much you get. The research system is quite efficient, and it has actually contributed a lot to the development of the ICT scene.”

Filip Banković: The start-up ecosystem is something that is very much worth looking at. The start-up scene in Belgrade is comparable to those of Bucharest and Warsaw while at the same time quite bigger than that one in Budapest.”

Nataša Skrbić: “Despite being very young, our ecosystem is actually quite mature, and it is growing very fast. If our start-up ecosystem were a child it would be a 10-year-old who speaks quite a few languages and plays at least three sports. It is quite advanced. Serbian start-ups need support in reaching the global market, given the local one is quite small, and often saturated. And both customer and corporate behaviour is quite different in Serbia. There’s also some specific energy in the air here in Serbia that makes you feel that the ecosystem is picking up and blooming and the ecosystem is developing rapidly, so now is the perfect opportunity for first-comers and early-comers to get in and join the sectors with support and investment.”

Marija Ilić: “The Serbian market is still very young, and we had a later start compared to the Polish gaming market which is the most successful in emerging Europe. But we already have clear signs that we are heading in the same direction. As with any emerging market the Serbian gaming industry is not without obstacles or challenges. There is plenty of work ahead, some of the biggest challenges are bureaucracy or so-called red tape. There are plenty of excessive regulations and standards and some formal rules which are preventing decision making and action in this cutting-edge industry where agility is a must, but we don’t have that. So, this is one of the biggest challenges, also the double taxation with the US which significantly lowers the income, especially for the smaller studios. Our industry is on the radar of foreign investors who do bring financial opportunity and support for local growth, so the next challenge for us as an association is to build a status report for developers, start-ups and investors.”

Vuk Mirković: “The business culture in Serbia is client-oriented and you won’t find that much elsewhere. Instead of arguing with a client, people here in business processes understand the client-side and they’re more focused on the client-side than anything else. Besides that, the core understanding of consumer engaging principles is something that’s in the DNA of any business organisation around here. It’s a pro-consumer setup that you’ll find here. Belgrade and Serbia are a melting pot for Europe. People do nice things and they somehow tend to create something beautiful, not just functional.”

You can watch the entire session below: