The sector assumes that they have failed to identify the “problem” of exclusion due to digital progress with a plan that will not be mandatory
Customers displaced from the operations they usually carry out in bank branches will see a little light after several years of indignation and after several weeks of protests promoted by the campaign “I am older, not an idiot” of the already popular retired doctor Carlos San Juan. Financial entities, focused on technological processes especially after confinement, assume that they had not seen it coming.
This was stated this Wednesday by the president of the Spanish Banking Association (AEB), José María Roldán, indicating that “the problem that Carlos San Juan has revealed exists, it is different from the one we had identified and it is real.” A declaration of intent that comes when there are barely two weeks left before the deadline given by the economic vice president, Nadia Calviño, expires, so that they can prepare an action plan with which to attend to the groups separated from that daily operation.
The representatives of the employers’ associations (AEB, CECA and UNACC) held a meeting this Wednesday with those of the Treasury -an agency dependent on the Ministry of Economy- to discuss the details of the protocol that they are going to develop to deal with the complaints of their clients. In that meeting, the entities detailed their plan, although they still have to outline it until they officially present it to the department headed by Nadia Calviño. They did show their “sensitivity” in an issue for which they have been approached in recent weeks due to the avalanche of criticism, according to sources in the financial sector.
There will be changes in the day to day of the offices, the telephone switchboards, the mobile applications or the different alternatives enabled to reach the most depopulated rural areas.
What the sector had on the table until now was a protocol aimed exclusively at guaranteeing the provision of services in rural areas, aware that the digital transformation could generate “certain tensions of financial exclusion”. It focused on problems such as access to cash or digital training. However, the extent of the current complaints are “something qualitatively different and more complex,” acknowledges José María Roldán.
In this sense, the associations of the financial sector have reached the conclusion that it is necessary to have a permanent instrument that allows people who are no longer in a position to use digital channels to be able to continue using other channels that allow them to have access to financial services. The new plan will be a “modification of the protocol” that they already had in place so that it “includes these new elements that we have identified,” according to Roldán. It will be to provide “more permanent solutions for those older people who can no longer use digital channels.”
Four axes of attention
The measures included in this document will not be mandatory for financial entities. That is one of the keys to the new protocol. In other words, it is a text that each entity will assume voluntarily. And although there will be different measures, depending on their commercial policy in each case, it is not expected that any entity will drop out of the agreement. As this newspaper advanced last weekend, the entities are studying initiatives to improve the personal assistance of the elderly, with differentiated treatment through ‘senior’ advisers, a specific figure to help and advise them in the operation that until recently For a few years they performed at the window at any time of the day and without restrictions. In addition, they raise how to improve the training of their own employees.
On the other hand, they are analyzing measures related to the adaptation of the current technological channels (‘app’) to the elderly or other clients. In other words, they could modify their applications or channel them towards these citizens so that, for example, they have much more agile menus for use.
Another pillar will be related to the financial education of customers so that they have quick access to their applications and can assess certain common risks of the ‘web’ through agreements with the consistories.
They also insist on replacing the closure of branches (an unstoppable measure, which in 2021 alone closed 3,000 offices) with ofibuses such as those that some corporations already have or a cash withdrawal service in certain businesses (‘cash back’).
Santander and Abanca set the pace
Banco Santander and Abanca have decided to anticipate the joint protocol that the sector is preparing to prevent the financial exclusion of some groups such as the elderly. The entity chaired by Ana Botín -which currently has 1,947 branches in Spain after closing 992 in 2021- has already communicated to its network staff that cashier hours will be extended by three hours starting next Monday, February 14.
As explained by sources from the Cantabrian bank to this newspaper, the window service hours will now cover from 08:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., compared to the previous slot that was limited until 11:00 a.m. For the ‘Smart Red’ offices, the opening hours are also extended, from 09:00 to 14:00. On the other hand, non-customers will continue with the hours already established, being able to do cashier operations on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 09:00 to 10:30. This schedule is also maintained for all cash bill payments.
Abanca has also moved in the same direction, which this Wednesday announced that as of this Thursday it will extend the window service hours until 2:00 p.m. for the elderly, a service that was already provided on pension collection days and which now moves to every day of the month.
The entity has also decided to assign a personal manager for those people who require it if they have digital difficulties when operating. And this service will be available both in the customer service segment and in telephone banking.
The entity chaired by Juan Carlos Escotet currently has a commercial network in Spain of 634 offices and, as detailed, its active customer base over 65 years of age is around 558,147, 30% of the total base
Among other measures that it has also adopted, it highlights the creation of simplified and much more intuitive menus in its digital channels, including ATMs, to facilitate certain basic operations.