Bank branches are in the process of extinction. Until not long ago, Spain was the country with the most bank branches and bars per inhabitant. First, the 2008 financial crisis forced the network to be restructured. Then, the digitalization of the business and the low interest rates led the banks to lower the blinds in the branches to save on expenses and during the last year the Covid-19 health crisis has taken the lead apart from a network each time less extensive. The fact is that in the last five years Spanish banking has closed 33.4% of brancheswhich is one in three, according to the latest data from the Bank of Spain.
Specific, between 2016 and 2021 banks closed 9,700 branches until leaving its commercial network in 19,338 branches. The Mediterranean and the provinces to the northwest of the peninsula have been the most affected geographical areas. In this sense, Catalonia and Castilla y León were particularly affected, with seven provinces in which the closure of offices has been above 40%.
In fact, in Tarragona the withdrawal has been more intensesince since 2016 they have closed more than half of the branches (50.1%) to stay with 224. In Girona 209 branches have lowered their blinds (45.5%). On Palencia and Barcelona the cut in offices has been 44.1%, while in Zamora of 43.5%, in Salamanca 41.5% and in Lion 40.9%.
In addition, in another 13 provinces the closure of branches has been above the national average: Valladolid (38.8%), Alicante (38.5%), Lleida (38.3%), Valencia (37.8% ), Castellón (37.5%), Pontevedra (-36.5%), Murcia (36.4%), Madrid (35.9%), Almería (35.6%), A Coruña (35.3% ), Balearic Islands (34.8%), La Rioja (34.1%) and Burgos (33.4%)
For its part, in the central areas of the country the cut has been softer. In 15 provinces, the closure of branches has been below the average (Bizkaia, Ávila, Segovia, Álava, Málaga, Córdoba, Soria, Zaragoza, Toledo, Navarra, Huelva, Ciudad Real, Jaén, Granada and Badajoz). In addition, in Huesca the closure has been below 20%. In Teruel they have closed 14.8% of the branches, in Albacete 12.9% and Cuenca only 9.7%.
The banking sector is in full transition from traditional face-to-face service in branches to online service through digital channels. However, in this process of withdrawing offices, groups of older and vulnerable people, especially in rural areas, They have raised their voices because they consider that they are being excluded.
The strategy adopted by banks in recent years is based on closing several small offices located in areas close to each other to open another larger one in which to offer personalized advice. The objective is to direct customers to carry out the simplest operations through digital platforms and to go to the branch when they require the help of an expert to contract a more complex product or carry out operations in which they need advice. to raise
The sector justifies the continuous closure of branches in the greater weight that digital customers have and in the decreasing influx of customers in the branches, which makes establishments unprofitable. Even, financial sources explain, part of the branch network remains open despite generating losses for the bank.
However, in that scenario a digital divide has opened between the younger and older generations and actions as simple as withdrawing money in cash or checking the bank account can become difficult in the so-called emptied Spain.
To alleviate this gap, the banking employers’ associations AEB, CECA and Unacc recently signed a protocol of ten measures to help older and vulnerable customers overcome the obstacles that the digitization of the sector represents for them. Thus, the Spanish bank will extend the hours of face-to-face service in the branches so that they cover at least from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for cash services. It will also offer personalized and preferential telephone assistance to the elderly and will simplify the language of ATMs.
The banks will also provide specific mandatory training to the staff of the commercial network in the needs of this group over 65 years of age. What’s more, the adaptability, accessibility and simplicity of the channels will be guaranteed depending on its use. The protocol includes offering customers financial education, digital and fraud prevention actions through the most appropriate channel.
Likewise, it will create Financial Inclusion Observatory to monitor the measures adopted by entities for the personalized provision of financial services. In this case, the number of ATMs, offices, and other services of each entity will be updated, especially those located in vulnerable areas, with the aim of preventing the population of these areas from being left without a way to withdraw cash or perform services. basics.
4,400 villages. According to data from the Bank of Spain, of the 8,131 municipalities in Spain, 4,400 do not have an office, 54%. In total, more than 1.6 million people are without access to an office in their municipality. Although in relative terms it means that only 3.5% of the population in Spain lacks access to a branch, finding an office in some autonomous communities can be difficult. In addition, the situation arises that it is precisely in rural areas where there are no bank offices that citizens need them most. In general, these are agricultural areas with a small population where a good part of the inhabitants belongs to an age group that has more difficult access to digital channels.
Initiatives. To alleviate this lack of face-to-face banking services and avoid financial exclusion, some initiatives have been carried out. CaixaBank has inherited Bankia’s Ofibus, a mobile branch, which runs through municipalities at risk of financial exclusion. Similarly, in 2020 Correos announced an agreement with Santander to offer basic banking services throughout Spain through the public body’s 4,675 citizen service points. It is an agreement that, once the exclusivity period has expired, plans to extend to other entities.