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MADRID

A peek into Madrid’s most exclusive private members’ clubs

With the newest player on the scene aiming to challenge elitism and exclusivity - and with Soho House Madrid on its way - writer and cultural consultant Agnish Ray took a look at some of the capital’s most iconic private members’ clubs, both old and new…

A peek into Madrid's most exclusive private members' clubs
At Club Alma in Madrid, 70 percent of the members are women.

Standing at the doorway of Casino de Madrid  – just next to Sevilla metro station on Calle de Alcalá – you catch a glimpse of its ornate, resplendent, undulating baroque marble staircase, adorned with sculptures of fauns, cherubs and other classical figures. Getting past the doorman to actually climb up these stairs, however, is not so easy.

The waiting list for membership at this private club is a long one and you’ll need two existing members to recommend you personally – not to mention fork over a joining fee of over €6,000 – before you can be accepted into the fold and get access to the facilities.


Photo: NH Collection

Founded in 1836, Casino de Madrid is among the city’s oldest and most prestigious private members’ societies. Modelled on the “gentlemen’s clubs” of Victorian and Edwardian England, institutions like this were set up as meeting places for Spain’s high society – government officials, businessmen, aristocrats and intellectuals – to smoke, drink, play cards and discuss matters of national interest.

Today, Madrid is home to several such clubs, both old and new, offering their members a combination of exclusivity, luxury, convenience and community. Many of them maintain the formal, elitist air of the original 19th century models: dress codes that prohibit casual footwear and enforce ties and jackets for men; long, inaccessible waiting lists for membership; and a sense of secrecy that battles off any press attention for the sake of maintaining their illusion of mystery.


Photo: Antonio Pistillo / AROUND

Others, however, are looking to break the conventional mould. The newest kid on the block, for example – AROUND Madrid  – claims to be Spain’s first ‘accessible’ organisation of its kind. It is looking to redefine the elitism usually associated with private members clubs, associating itself instead with an emerging, ambitious generation of millennials.

AROUND’s ethos of accessibility is reflected not only in its pricing (€48 per month), designed for a younger demographic, but also in its selection process. The senior team vets applicants with personality tests, as well as via their social media channels, in order to identify members who are creative, cosmopolitan and socially conscious – “everyday heroes”, as AROUND’s director Samantha Noia puts it, “who are looking for something outside of the norm.”


Photo: Antonio Pistillo / AROUND

A high of proportion of AROUND’s members so far are women, Noia tells me proudly. What is perhaps even more remarkably is the fact that Noia is the only female director of a private members club in Spain.

It seems an important step for the industry when comparing with an organisation like the 150-year-old La Real Gran Peña , whose gender policy raises eyebrows in a rather different way.  


Photo: La Real Gran Peña

Based in an emblematic nine-storey building, right on the Gran Via, this club sits at one of Madrid’s most conspicuous locations – and yet what goes on behind closed doors remains a mystery to many, owing to a strict closed door policy. Furthermore, it is understood that – even today – women are not allowed to become full society members.

It’s a different story over at Club Alma, where 70 percent of members are female. Located in Príncipe de Vergara, the club was set up in 2016 to create an environment that actively welcomed and empowered women, offering them the same exclusivity and social and professional privilege that had historically been associated with male society, while at the same time remaining open to male applicants.

Photo: Club Alma

The mansion, designed in Spanish Renaissance style, featuring high ceilings, stained glass and floor mosaics, was once home to prominent philanthropist Conchita de Rábago Fernández and her husband, the renowned doctor, Carlos Jiménez Díaz. Today, the club wishes to uphold the legacy of the building and its connections to important female figures.

It’s clear that while all members’ clubs are founded upon similar principles, each must have its own unique identity, offer and audience in order to succeed.


Photo: Miguel Pereira / Club Matador

Club Matador, for example, which opened in 2014, has a distinctive tendency towards culture and creativity. The owner is the publisher of Matador magazine. an annual art and culture publication, and the club is conceived in a similarly arty spirit. Matador presents two art exhibitions per year, owns a film collection of over 1,000 works and also has an on-site library.

Meanwhile, Club 567 describes itself as a “club for influential people” and comes with a strong business focus, bringing together business people and entrepreneurs to develop professional networks, generate commercial ideas and contribute to the city’s economic productivity. Members are encouraged to use the space for meetings, events, presentations, training sessions and networking, while the club’s committee also offers them free business consultancy on topics like marketing, branding, finance, energy, IT and law.

Madrid’s trend for private members’ clubs won’t be slowing down any time soon – Soho House is rumoured to be bringing its second Spanish venture to Madrid soon, following the opening of its Barcelona branch back in 2016.

Ultimately, the variety between the different clubs in the capital illustrate the diversity of opinion on what should be considered to be the social elite. Today, the business leaders of today (and tomorrow) wear Converse and skinny jeans rather than suits and fancy ties – it’s therefore this market that new players on the scene are looking to capture.

In many ways, the newer clubs opening up are just replicating the patterns of their predecessors while keeping up with the demographic shift – while people were once judged on their wealth, family connections and professional status, they are now judged for their selfies, followers and social influence. On the one hand, they reject the 19th century notions of social elitism that their older counterparts embody – and yet the lengthy shelf lives of such still-standing institutions ultimately set a high precedent towards which to aspire.
 
For more from Agnish Ray visit his website or follow him on Twitter
 

 

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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