How rural Spain is rebelling against rampant bank closures

Life in many parts of 'empty Spain' is becoming increasingly challenging as a result of the closure of hundreds of bank branches, making it impossible for many to withdraw cash. But rural communities are fighting back.

How rural Spain is rebelling against rampant bank closures
In rural Spain people are protesting bank closures. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

Over the past year, all of Spain’s biggest banks have closed hundreds of branches, laying off thousands of staff in the process.

This decision has hit residents in rural areas of the country particularly hard, who now find it increasingly difficult to access their savings in cash.

In fact, The Bank of Spain warned that almost three percent of the Spanish population, around 1.3 million people, find it difficult to get their hands on legal tender.

This rings particularly true in rural areas in the Spanish regions of Castilla y León, Galicia, Aragón and Andalusia, where people, especially the older population, are finding it difficult to access their pensions and deal with online banking systems.

This problem, among others, is pushing people out of rural areas in Spain, making the depopulation in these areas even worse.

Fighting back

In Galicia, the announcement of new office closures has led to a wave of protests across the most affected municipalities. Abanca has recently closed several of its offices in the region, affecting some 10,000 residents.

These disgruntled account holders will now join the 50,000 other Galicians from 45 different municipalities that, according to the Galician Institute of Statistics, did not have branches or ATMs in their municipalities at the beginning of the year. The majority of these are located in and around Ourense and A Coruña.  

Abanca’s decision to close its branches is “unprecedented aggression against rural areas” which also targets the elderly, Carlos Costa, mayor of the Pontevedra town of Campo Lameiro argues.

Abanca justified their closures by saying that they are reorganising and that they plan to have “larger offices with more staff and a greater degree of specialisation”.

In 2008, before the merger of the savings banks, Galicia had 2,534 branches. Now there are only half left. President of the Galicia region Alberto Núñez Feijóo blames the central government for not passing a law that prevents these closures.

Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

It’s in the region of Castilla y León however where the rural communities are most affected by the shortage of banks and ATMs. Here, protests by residents and city councils against depopulation and closures are increasingly common. Zamora and Ávila are the two provinces that have the fewest banks. 

Large banks continue to close branches in Extremadura as well. The Bank of Spain’s report for the first quarter of the year stated that four BBVA branches and seven Santander branches have disappeared since the beginning of the year.

Unicaja, which has just completed the absorption of Liberbank, has closed an office in the Extremaduran province of Cáceres. This equates to twelve bank branches closures in just three months.

Teruel Existe, a political group based in the province of Teruel in Aragón, has also been fighting the closures of financial offices in their province and has demanded a greater presence of branches in underpopulated areas.

In April 2021 two of Spain’s biggest banks announced thousands of layoffs. 8,300 jobs were axed at CaixaBank and 3,800 at its smaller rival BBVA, accounting for 16 percent of the workforce.

Last year Banco Santander, Spain’s largest bank also laid off 1,800 staff members. 

Potential solutions

In early 2021, the Salamanca Provincial Council created a system that incorporated ATMs into the library buses.

Valladolid has also invested in five public ATMs that will be installed in centres where they had been withdrawn years ago.

Banco Santander came up with its own potential solution when it sealed an agreement with Correos so that its customers can use the 4,675 post office service points from the first quarter of this year for free if the financial institution does not have a physical presence in the municipality.

The Bank of Spain has also proposed that money could be withdrawn from lottery booths or tobacco shops. The practice of asking for’ cash back’ in supermarkets and other convenience stores in the UK and Ireland has been commonplace for years.   

This practice was put into operation in 2016 by the ING bank in Spain when it signed agreements with Dia supermarkets and the Galp and Shell gas stations so that through its Twyp Cash app, you can withdraw between €20 and €150 in about 3,500 establishments.


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Black Friday in Spain: What you should be aware of

Here's what you need to know about the Black Friday sales in Spain in 2022, from when they start to which retailers are offering discounts and why the sales aren't always as good as they're made out to be.

Black Friday in Spain: What you should be aware of

Black Friday is the day when some of Spain’s biggest retailers hold huge sales and give massive discounts (or so they claim) in the run-up to the start of the Christmas shopping season.

The tradition originated in the US as it was held the day after Thanksgiving.

READ ALSO: Where Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving

While Spain doesn’t generally celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday, it does however go in for Black Friday in a big way, along with many other countries around the world.

Spain began getting in on the Black Friday action in 2011 when the regulations on promotions and sales changed.

When is Black Friday?

This year, Black Friday will be held on Friday November 25th, but many companies and online retailers decide to hold sales throughout the month or even extend them for a whole week instead of just one day.

For example, tech store MediaMarkt began giving discounts on November 1st and will continue its sales until November 30th, while Mr. Wonderful began its discounts early too on November 18th.

Inditex group (which includes clothes stores Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Oysho and Stradivarious) will publish their discounts online on Thursday November 24th.

Many stores will also extend their offers until Monday November 28th, which has become known as Cyber Monday. On this day, more tech companies and online retailers will be offering discounts too.

What will there be discounts on?

There will be Black Friday sales in Spain on everything from fashion and beauty to sports equipment, homeware and technology, among others.

Businesses are also allowing the return periods to be extended until January 6th 2023 or even into February, so that people can start their Christmas shopping early.

Spanish stores such as Mango, Zara and El Corte Inglés will all be having sales, as well as international and online retailers such as Amazon and Primark.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea will be doing something a little different this year, having a Green Friday where they’ll buy back some of your old furniture. 

According to a study by online marketing company Webloyalty, it is expected that online spending will grow by 25 percent compared to 2021, despite the rise in the cost of living and the financial squeeze many are experiencing.

Are Black Friday sales in Spain really that good?

Research conducted by Spanish consumer watchdog OCU over the past seven years has proven that many shops put the prices of their products up before Black Friday, so that the discounts they then apply aren’t really bargains for shoppers, but businesses get to capitalise on the shopping frenzy. 

In 2021, OCU spent 30 days writing down prices for almost 17,000 products in 52 stores. Almost a third of them rose in price (32.5 percent of the products), 11.8 percent of which cost less in the week of Black Friday. Overall, an average price rise of 3.3 percent was calculated.

There’s even a Twitter hastag #timofertasBF ( abit like ‘ripofferBF’) where user post the products that claim to be on discount but really aren’t.

Therefore, when it comes to big purchases in particular, make sure that you’re familiar with the average price of the product before Black Friday by comparing prices online. That should help you to ascertain whether you’re actually getting a good offer. 

If it’s a top-of-the-range product that’s just been released, don’t expect it to be on sale, and if it is, you should be suspicious.

Watch out for Black Friday scams

Be aware that while Black Friday can mean some great bargains, it’s also a day that brings out scammers and people who are waiting to steal your personal details.

In the past, there have been situations where second-hand items never arrive, the setup of fake online stores and discounts that contain malware.

You should particularly look out for phishing scams, where people try to steal your identity or personal details and fraudulent text messages.

Experts agree that there are several ways to protect yourself against potential Black Friday fraudsters including avoiding suspicious links or online shops you’re not aware of, using only official websites, creating strong passwords, not trusting any discounts that seem way too good to be true and using online security software.