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How a pensioner made Spanish banks rethink counter services

ANOVER DE TORMES, SPAIN (AFP) – It was his bank’s limited counter service and indifference to his struggles with ATMs and apps that forced a Spanish pensioner to act, highlighting the panic the digital revolution is causing many older people.

For Carlos San Juan, from the eastern port city of Valencia, the tipping point was an incident with an ATM in which the bank staff “flatly refused to come out and help” and would not let him in because he did not have an appointment.

A retired urologist from Valencia, he went home and wrote a manifesto called “I’m elderly, not an idiot”, which was initially signed in December by around 100 friends and  acquaintances.

It struck a chord, quickly finding its way onto the online platform, where it picked up nearly 650,000 signatures of support and was put before the authorities.

Such was the pressure that Spain’s three main banking associations last week signed a protocol in the presence of Economy Minister Nadia Calvino pledging to improve customer service for older people.

Carlos San Juan wrote a manifesto called ‘I’m elderly, not an idiot’, which picked up nearly 650,000 signatures of support on the online platform. PHOTO: AFP

Bank branches “will expand their counter service opening hours”, “older people will be prioritised” and “ATMs, banking apps and web pages will be adapted with a simplified interface and language,” said the Spanish Banking Association (AEB), one of the signatories.

San Juan hopes the measure will end “the plight of those who still have banking books, and that of older people with mobility issues having to queue in wheelchairs, with walkers or sticks, who have to “keep coming back” to see a bank employee face-to-face.

“I have Parkinson’s disease,” said this friendly, eloquent 78-year-old who normally goes to the bank when there are fewer people because he needs more time.

People of his age need to be shown patience, he said. “We might learn something today and then forget it two days later.”

Older people are “absolutely not against digitalisation… That’s here to stay”, all they want is “a more humane transition” into the future.

AEB President Jose María Roldan agreed. “San Juan has made us all realise we need to look after those who can’t go as fast and those who will always need help because of their personal circumstances,” he said during the signing ceremony.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Spanish banking sector has halved its number of branches to around 20,000, shedding nearly 40 per cent of its employees – who today number 172,000, European Central Bank figures show.

That is an average of eight employees per branch, compared with an average of 12.5 in neighbouring France, which has 402,000 employees and 32,000 branches.


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