One of the most resilient traits of the Serbian business environment is the omnipresence of the stamp. The electronic signature is still not widely accepted, and the long established practice both in business and legal community is that any document (invoices included) is valid only if certified with the appropriate stamp.
However, foreign companies starting to invest and do business in Serbia have brought with themselves new customs, which tend to be less bureaucratic and more business friendly. Those customs, together with constant advancement of usage of electronic communications in business, are starting to challenge long established practices, so in the last few years Serbian regulatory framework began to be more relaxed and incorporated modern means of communication.
In that sense, the National Bank of Serbia issued an explication concerning issuing and registering invoices and bills in paper and electronic form without stamp and signature.
This explication states that the invoices, issued by a legal person or an entrepreneur, do not have to be certified with a stamp or even signed, neither in physical form nor by an electronic signature.
The NBS explains that it is enough for an invoice to be verified with an “identity mark”. This mark may be any mark unambiguously designating an invoice – name of the competent officer of the company, serial number facsimile or any and all combinations of the aforementioned.
Furthermore, the explication clarifies that invoices issued electronically do not have to be printed out in hard copy and certified with a stamp in order to be considered valid.
However, it remains to be seen how will this explication be incorporated in the present practices of Serbian courts, and more importantly, will it be able to alter those practices. For example, in order to start enforcement proceedings, a party has to prove that an invoice on basis of which is the enforcement is sought has been received by the debtor. The courts still insist on signed receipt of delivery as a proof. This is mostly due to the fact that there is not a uniform system of electronic certification of receipt accepted by the legal and business community that could be used in court proceedings without any doubt that it is accurate. Another problem in everyday practice will be the readiness of state owned companies and administration on all levels to accept documents without a stamp issued by a privately owned company.
This explication will undoubtedly speed up business transactions and reduce costs of administration for everybody, and it could be a big first step in finally making business in Serbia more open to the technologies of the new millennia.