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My experience at 3Bank Serbia

Leo Wittmann

3Bank’s impact banking in Serbia puts finance at the service of the under-banked, temporary workers, pensioners, small businesses, and small agricultural producers. Loans with an average size of around 3,000€ serve their financial needs and helped to create and secure over 300,000 jobs in the last 20 years of operation. These loans, and their economic impact, have made 3Bank not only the trusted partner of many Serbians, but a highly relevant player in the Serbian banking environment. Over 50% of all Serbian farmers with loans are clients of 3Bank, and for every third Serbian founder a loan from 3Bank is the foundation of their entrepreneurship.
With a network of branches and advisors throughout Serbia, 3Bank is reducing the distance between their services and their clients. Over 300 loan advisors spend their days in the field catering the financial needs of their clients, enabling the processing of over 4500 loans per month, and serving as the cornerstone of 3Bank. In 20 years of operation this amounts to over 330,000 microloans of which 75% were disbursed to clients who live in rural areas of the Republic of Serbia.

Through a tablet-based application the loan advisors are enabled to go from first contact with the client, to the loan application all in the field, thereby reducing additional branch visits for the clients to the bare minimum. This utilization of digital technology is a great example of their approach to optimizing their operations: gaining efficiency through digital applications, even though digital literacy limits the outreach of digital products. By applying digital tools within their own processes, rather than building complex mobile self-service applications they are able to provide their clients a personal, seamless process to their loan.

3Bank even continues to reduce physical barriers to their financial services through a new digital lending product. They have started to offer the digital lending experience, and time to cash within hours rather than days, to the under-banked. They tend to focus on a younger demographic, the temporary workforce, where higher digital literacy can be expected. Again, 3Bank delivers on their mission by focusing on those who would otherwise have difficulty in accessing financial services. Starting with this group of clients allows them to utilize a high rate of digital literacy, and with further optimization of this digital loan offer and a growing digital literacy, potentially enables them to also roll it out to 3Banks other client groups. They are also launching their first dedicated green product at the beginning of 2023, which is meant to target agricultural households and finance insulation for their houses to achieve a higher degree of energy efficiency, benefiting both their clients and the environment. This product will allow them to continue building on their excellence in social impact while also venturing towards a higher environmental impact. The latter also represented and supported within 3Bank’s shareholder structure, consisting of Triodos, UmweltBank and GLS Bank – all members of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values.

For two months in the summer of 2022, I had the chance to intern at 3Bank in Business Development, to exchange and especially learn from their experiences. I graduated in early 2022 with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, already working for GLS Bank since late 2018. First in private and commercial customer support, I later had the chance to join the executive board unit on technical innovation. With these prior experiences of impact banking, and the first insights into the challenges of developing solutions for our customers, I was heavily impressed by 3Bank. I found myself on the team of Slobodan Smiljkovic and got to work with him. The precision with which they are developing their services is really inspiring. I got to experience 3Bank, its people and clients. I got the chance to exchange with the different departments throughout the bank and got a great understanding of their organization and their operations.
To the facts and figures shared at the beginning of this post, there is the experience of the actual difference the services for under-banked make. One key moment for me was our trip to Temerin together with loan advisors on their visit to clients. After we crossed a busy main street, we entered a client’s office. Seconds later, two men entered the office, who turned out to be former customers of 3Bank and who, having seen their loan officers from across the street, came to say hello.
3Banks business is not that of an NGO, but it creates impact, adding to their communities and helping to build personal success stories. It is not altruistic, but the clients are at the center of their attention.

3Bank is in the business of providing basic financial services with relatively low amounts of money and short maturities. If they stop focusing on their clients and start to develop some form of attitude, like some might attach to “banking” and “bankers”, they would be out of their business in 12 months. It is not about doing just good, it is not just about doing business, it is instead about a just business – to create impact.
My summer in Serbia, my internship at 3Bank, and the time with my colleagues in business development leaves me reinforced in my conviction for impact banking and our inevitable mission of socioecological transformation.