Euro bandwagon off to slow start in Lithuania

  • 1999-01-14
  • Paul Beckman
VILNIUS - After the common European currency was introduced Jan. 1, many of Lithuania's commercial banks have made adjustments and now offer euro options for their customers. So far, however, Lithuanians are taking their time warming up to the new currency.

The opening of accounts and the issuing of commercial loans in euros are a couple of examples of the services many Lithuanian banks have offered since the beginning of the new year.

Dalius Aleksandravicius of Vilniaus Bankas' international finance department said very few customers have switched to the euro options but remains confident the situation will change in time.

"I would not say that many are switching," said Aleksandravicius. "The Lithuanian economy is still very dollarized. But some customers, perhaps the bravest ones, started working with euros on Jan. 4."

The Baltic News Service reported that clients of other commercial banks have shown about the same level of euro excitement.

Some bankers claimed customers will become more interested in the euro once they fully understand it. The opportunities for Lithuanians to educate themselves about euro basics are more widespread.

"Generally, [a willingness to switch] depends upon how much a customer knows about the Euro," said Aleksandravicius. "Our bank has published a booklet to help inform them, but I'm not sure if it has reached all our customers. Some people may have a pessimistic outlook, but I think the potential of all 11 countries in the European Monetary Union is very good."

The Bank of Lithuania, the country's central bank, also took up the crusade of informing bankers and the public about the new currency. From Jan. 4 - 6 a three day exhibition of euro samples and national currencies of EU countries was held in the bank. According to Vidmantas Lauranavicius of the bank's museum and exhibition department, about 800 employees of various banks and another 200 interested individuals stopped by to take a look.

"The point was to show and inform about the arrival of one currency and the exit of the others," said Lauranavicius.

Actual euro coins and notes, however, are not due to fill the cash registers and pocketbooks of Europeans living in the 11 EMU countries until 2002. Until then, the euro will be exchanged through cyberspace.

Eugenija Martinaityte, director of the Lithuanian Banking, Insurance and Finance Institute told TBT that the euro's intangible nature is another reason some Lithuanians have not shown an immediate enthusiasm towards the currency.

"So far there has been positive reactions everywhere, like in the European market," said Martinaityte. "I think Lithuanian banks are prepared for it, but customers perhaps still see the Euro only as a label. They will need to feel what it is."

Even if customers are strolling towards the euro instead of sprinting, Martinaityte noted the currency's introduction has had at least one positive indirect affect on Lithuania. She said the euro has managed to soak up so much attention that it has taken the Russian crisis out of the spotlight and put it into the shadows.

In time, the euro is certain to find more enthusiasts in Lithuania. Paulius Tarbunas, head of Vilniaus Bankas' currency exchange office, perhaps summed up the euro's future best.

"In Lithuania, perhaps the customer's reaction is somewhat slower, but people here will get used to euros," he said. "Maybe not next week, but in time they will."