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BANKING

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

A 78-year-old Valencian man has collected 220,000 signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, amid a wave of branch closures and more banking services only available online.

An elderly man withdraws money from the now closed Caja de Ahorros Castilla La Mancha bank (CCM). There are now the same number of Spanish bank branches in Spain as in 1977. Photo: Philippe DESMAZES/AFP
An elderly man withdraws money from the now closed Caja de Ahorros Castilla La Mancha bank (CCM). There are now the same number of Spanish bank branches in Spain as in 1977. Photo: Philippe DESMAZES/AFP

With hundreds of branch closures in the last two years in Spain and an increasing number of digital services replacing face-to-face banking, many Spanish seniors feel they’ve been forgotten by their banks.

They’re suffering from the same financial exclusion as many rural communities (which tend to have older populations), forced to travel further to find another branch and struggling to access or understand internet banking.

One 78-year-old Valencian man, Carlos San Juan, has decided to give an online voice to his counterparts by launching a petition on Change.org under the slogan “I’m old, not stupid” (Soy mayor, no idiota).

“I am almost 80 years old and it makes me very sad to see that the banks have forgotten older people like me,” San Juan writes.

“Now almost everything is online… and not all of us understand machines. We do not deserve this exclusion. That is why I am calling for more humane treatment at bank branches.”

In the last year, around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have closed down as financial institutions attempt to cut costs 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. 

Between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

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“They do not stop closing branches,” San Juan explains. 

“Some ATMs are complicated to use, others break down and no one solves your doubts, there are procedures that can only be done online…and in the few places where there is face-to-face service, the opening hours are very limited”.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Spanish banks have closed 2,200 of their ATMs across the country. This means that there are currently 48,300 cajeros (ATMs in Spanish), levels not seen since 2001.

READ ALSO: Spanish banks’ ATMs are disappearing or being replaced: What you need to know

“You have to ask for an appointment by phone but you call and nobody picks up… And they end up redirecting you to an application that, again, we don’t know how to use. Or they send you to a distant branch that you may not have a way to get to.

“I have come to feel humiliated when asking for help at a bank and being spoken to as if I were an idiot for not knowing how to complete an operation.

“This is neither fair nor humane,” San Juan concludes.

These are problems that people of all ages who know how to operate internet banking can empathise with, as not all processes can be done online and Spanish banks have never been renowned for their great customer service or ample working hours.

But for Spain’s elders, not having this face-to face banking service – and a “humane” one at that as San Juan puts it –  is far more problematic for their daily life.

There are now the same amount of bank branches in Spain as in 1977.

If you want to sign Carlos San Juan’s petition on Change.org, you can do so here.

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LABOUR RIGHTS

‘A long way to go’: Spain’s domestics fight to end discrimination

For years, Aracely Sánchez went to work without counting her hours, always fearful she could lose her job from one day to the next.

'A long way to go': Spain's domestics fight to end discrimination

“They would always ask me to do more and more and more, as if I were a machine,” she told AFP of her employers at a house in Madrid.

Within a collective of domestic workers, this 39-year-old Mexican has been trying to assert her basic rights to have time off every week, to be paid for working overtime and to have unemployment cover.

But given the precarious nature of this type of work in Spain, it is a challenge.

“There are employers who are very humane and who respect us, but there are many who try to take advantage of the situation,” she explained.

“They say: if the job doesn’t suit you, there are plenty more where you came from.”

According to the Workers Commission union (CCOO), nearly 600,000 women serve as domestic staff in Spain where taking them on for housework, cooking or childcare is widespread.

Of that number, nearly 200,000 are undeclared, working in the black economy without an employment contract.

“Many of them come from Latin America and they don’t have papers and find themselves in a very vulnerable situation,” said Mari Cruz Vicente, the CCOO’s head of activism and employment.

‘Exposing violations’

Following a ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice (CJEU) and pressure from the unions, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez adopted a reform this month aiming at ending the “discrimination” suffered by these workers.

READ ALSO: The new rules for hiring a domestic worker in Spain

Under the changes, dubbed by the government as “settling a historic debt”, domestic workers are now entitled to claim unemployment benefits and cannot be dismissed without justification.

They will also be covered by healthcare “protection” and be able to access training to improve their “professional opportunities” and job conditions.

“This is a very important step forward,” said Vicente, while stressing the need to step up efforts to register those who are working without a contract and don’t benefit from the reform.

“This reform was very necessary,” said Constanza Cisneros of the Jeanneth Beltrán observatory which specialises in domestic workers’ rights.

“Spain was very behind. Every day we have people coming to us whose rights have been violated. We have to end such practices now,” she said.

“Such situations have to be exposed.”

SPAIN-DOMESTIC-WORKERS

Around 200,000 domestic workers who are working in the black economy without an employment contract will not benefit from Spain’s new labour reform. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP)

‘Not seen as people’

Mexican home help Sánchez has often experienced such abuses in more than two decades of employment.

In 2001, she arrived in Madrid to take up full-time employment caring for an elderly person for €350 a month.

She then spent the next 15 years working in short-term jobs, almost always without a contract, despite the fact she had a valid residency permit.

“When I said I wanted a contract, they never called me back. They didn’t want to pay contributions,” she said, describing her work as “undervalued” with domestic staff seen as “labourers” and not “as people”.

Amalia Caballero, a domestic worker from Ecuador, has had a very similar experience.

“We often finish very late, or they change our hours at the last minute assuming we’ll just fall in line. But we also have a life that we need to sort out,” said Caballero, 60.

She also talks about the “humiliations” often endured by those who live with their employers.

“One time, one of my bosses asked me why I showered every day. It was clear he thought (the hot water) was costing him too much money,” she told AFP.

But will such attitudes change with the reform?

“There’s still a long way to go,” she sighed, saying many domestic staff “have completed their studies” back home and even hold a degree.

“People need to recognise that,” she said.

Cisneros agreed.

“Our work needs to command greater respect, not least because it’s so necessary. Without staff to pick up the children, run the household and look after elderly people, what would families do?”

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