It is 10:30 in the morning on a busy avenue in Madrid. With just a half hour left before the end of walk-in hours at most bank branches, customers are starting to get impatient. “I’ve been trying to make a deposit for two days and it’s impossible, they have no shame”Miguel complains, the last to arrive in a queue of about ten people, served by a single employee.
The situation in this Caixabank branch -formerly a Bankia, converted after the merger-, is repeated in Santander and in Sabadell a few hundred meters further on, although here the queue has worsened due to a computer problem that has left it unusable the three ATMs available at the branch, the The only access to the box that many customers have due to the limitation of the hours of face-to-face service.
“They don’t mistreat you, but they treat you like you’re stupid, they ask you absurd questions and ask you to come with someone or to do the things online. And I can’t handle the Internet,” laments Eugenia, another client who, seeing the queue and the closed ATMs, decides to turn around: “Today no money is withdrawn.” Her complaint is the same one shared by thousands of older people -and not both -, and that led the Valencian retiree Carlos San Juan to start the campaign to collect signatures “I’m older, not an idiot” for a more humane treatment of banks.
The campaign that has forced the bank to act
What began as a campaign on the Change.org platform has ended up forcing the bank to move, which has already presented a action plan so that “no one is left behind”. San Juan, fed up with the queues of “elderly and helpless people” in front of the banks, according to what he told the TVE Newsletter, and that the offices reduced attention, has managed to gather 600,000 signatures, delivered this week to the Ministry of Economy.
The initiative soon caught the interest of citizens and the media and got the banking associations to announce the first measures: the branches will offer “personalized attention” or an agent to help the elderly with their paperwork, as well as extend the hours of attention in the box. They have also committed to simplifying the use of ATMs, websites and banking applications, according to the plan presented to Economy. Some, like Santander or Abanca, have already started it.
The problem, for the consumer organization FACUA, is that this plan is “a code of good practice and there are no consequences if it is not complied with”, its spokesperson, Rubén Sánchez, explains to RTVE.es. “We are reluctant to follow what Calviño says that the bankers propose. No, that the minister imposes”he claims, and they ask that a minimum ratio of open offices per number of inhabitants in rural areas be regulated by law, in addition to the entities themselves offering digital training to the elderly so that they can use the ATMs or the pages of the banks.
The end of the digital divide is one of the main demands of older users, who claim to be excluded after technological changes in banking. “What I have worse is the lack of attention. They want us all to go digital when we have limited capabilities,” criticizes María Ángeles, at the exit of a branch of Santander. “I’m 87 years old and my head is fine, but despite everything I have problems with the computer,” she says, asking for “special treatment, because not everyone has studied computer science.”
“They want us all to go digital when we have limited capabilities“
“The banks have forgotten the elderly, we are absolutely excluded, since they have greatly reduced human attention and have restricted it until 11:00″, denounced San Juan, 78, on Radio Nacional. Before that time, in addition, it is only possible to access with an appointment ” impossible to get”, according to the promoter of the initiative and confirmed by the clients interviewed, which creates the long queues that have become the image of this banking exclusion.
“I had three BBVA under my house and now they have all closed”
In addition to the digital divide, another of the criticisms most heard among the elderly, but also in general among bank users, is the reduction in the number of branches. “I had three BBVAs under my house. Now they have all closed and the only one close to me has no cash,” says Gloria, 65. Since the 2008 crisis, they have not stopped closing bank branches. In that year Spain had more than 45,000 open, its historical maximum, but the drop since then has been constant, reaching just over 20,000 in the last quarter of 2020, according to data from the Bank of Spain.
2021 was a particularly black year for personal attention in banks. The main entities closed 3,000 branches, 19.4% of their network, and ended the year with around 12,100 fewer employees. This is a reduction in the workforce of 8.6%, according to data from the seven largest banks compiled by Europa Press, which show that six of them carried out Employment Regulation Files.
Now, a smaller number of employees have to attend to a greater number of clients, those who continue to manage all their procedures in person. This leads to them ending up receiving a “inhumane treatment”, according to Miguel, who at 50 years old insists that the problems of bank services do not only affect the elderly. Gloria insists that the banks “reduce staff and offices because they want to continue earning money by the handful.”
FACUA denounces that the State’s position regarding the closure of offices and digitization has been limited to “complacency and passivity”, and that the Ministry of Consumption led by Alberto Garzón “has not even ruled on banking.” The other ministry with powers, that of the Economy, has asked the bankers to present proposals, but Sánchez questions this position: “How are they going to present proposals to the bankers if they are the ones committing abuses?”
Banks without teller service
For the consumer organization, it is especially serious that there may be offices that do not even offer a cashier service. This is the case, for example, of the Store branches of Caixabank. In 2020, FACUA denounced the Catalan entity for not allowing users with basic payment accounts to withdraw cash at its 600 Store offices, considering that it should offer this service beyond ATMs to vulnerable customers.
In one of these offices visited by RTVE.es, customers asked how to pay bills or enter money, to which a patient but tired employee responded the same: “We don’t have a box here, go to the teller or to another office.”
The bank defends itself and ensures that the problem of exclusion due to digitization it is not exclusive to the banking sector, nor is it more severe in it than in other sectorsbut rather “on the contrary”, according to what the president of the Spanish Banking Association, José María Roldán, pointed out on Wednesday.
Eugenia resignedly admits that her problem is not limited to the banks. “The same thing happens to us in social security, but also in family. I understand that dealing with older people is not easy, but we feel humiliated”the Mint.