Home Madrid education Age before app revolt galvanizes Europe’s older savers

Age before app revolt galvanizes Europe’s older savers

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MADRID: Aggravated by tricky financial applications, retired urologist Carlos San Juan got more than he bargained for when he launched a campaign for friendlier service from Spanish banks.

The 78-year-old launched a revolt dubbed “I’m old, not an idiot” online in late December and by mid-February had more than 640,000 signatures, forcing a change of course.

Now, Madrid has given Spanish banks until the end of the month to meet the needs of the elderly, with services such as withdrawing cash from ATMs or being able to operate remotely.

“I ask them to treat their customers with whom they make money with humanity and courtesy, regardless of age,” San Juan told Reuters.

Among the more than 9 million people over the age of 65 in Spain, who make up almost 20% of the total population, many have struggled to manage their finances since bank branches began to disappear from the main street.

The problems lay bare the disconnect between seeking profit through mass layoffs and meeting the needs of a section of the population struggling with cheaper channels.

San Juan says urgent measures such as face-to-face customer service during office hours were high on the agenda, before embarking on financial education.

Although the number of branches has more than halved since the 2008 financial crisis, Spain still has one of the densest banking networks in the world, with just over 45.5 outlets per 100 000 adults.

“It’s not a problem of a lack of branches, it’s that the banks are not helping (the) elderly people properly,” said Patricia Suarez, head of the Spanish consumer association Asufin.

The San Juan campaign has now spread to Germany, where almost 30% of the 83 million people are 60 or older.

Nicola Roehricht from the German National Association of Organizations of Older People is on a similar mission.

Roehricht travels the country, speaking to policymakers at conferences and seniors in their homes about the importance of making cyberspace more inclusive.

“We tell seniors, ‘Ask the banks to help you with your banking transactions.’ You shouldn’t be ashamed of having a smartphone and not knowing how it works. You have to introduce yourself and say, ‘I don’t understand not your weird English expressions. So help me,” she said.

EXCLUSION

While traditional banks in Spain, like Caixabank, have cut thousands of jobs to cope with ultra-low interest rates, those with a purely digital approach have been better able to weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Spanish and Portuguese unit of Dutch bank ING said this week it had increased its return on equity (ROE) to 12% at the end of 2021, from 7.4% a year ago. This compares to an average ratio of 6.9% in the Spanish banking sector.

The ING unit said its cost of managing deposits, loans and investment products was around a third lower than the Spanish average, as it has only 1,400 employees in the Iberian Peninsula.

In digitally lagging Italy, older people can still find all the help they need at a branch, but as banks close outlets, trouble looms, union leader says FABI, Lando Maria Sileoni.

Italy’s biggest bank Intesa Sanpaolo, which plans to cut 22% of its branches over the next four years, has entered into a partnership to provide basic services such as bill payment at 45,000 cafes and tobacco kiosks.

And in Britain, the government is planning legislation to ensure the digital banking campaign doesn’t leave older people adrift.

COMPLEX

In Spain, the president of the banking association AEB, Jose Maria Roldan, recently thanked San Juan for highlighting a “much more complex and more permanent problem than we thought”.

Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri, president of Spain’s largest bank by national assets, said a quarter of Caixabank customers over 70 used remote channels, compared to 85% in their 30s.

A draft document seen by Reuters from Joint Voluntary Proposals shows Spanish banks plan to expand OTC services, dedicate staff to interacting with older people and make apps more user-friendly.

Other top Spanish bankers, including BBVA chairman Carlos Torres, say tech exclusion doesn’t just affect older people, but is a matter of “digital skills”.

Santander, BBVA, Sabadell and small lender Abanca have recently announced that they will extend or have already extended cashier services in their networks.

But none plan to hire additional staff, which Asufin and Comisiones Obreras, the sector’s largest Spanish union, say could increase the workload of overstretched employees.

Antonio Luque Delgado, a bank worker for more than 25 years, said hiring would be key to solving this problem, especially after banks have cut 100,000 jobs since the financial crisis.

“When you force a 70-year-old to download an app, you know it won’t work. You know the customer will be back in the office the next day because they forgot the password, because they entered wrong,” Luque said.

For San Juan, the battle for inclusion has only just begun.

“This is not the end. Good causes fail due to fatigue, we will continue,” he said.

(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; additional reporting by Tom Sims in Frankfurt, Valentina Za in Milan and Iain Whiters in London; editing by Alexander Smith)