In recent years it has become more and more difficult for people in Spain to access basic banking services such as cash points. This “financial exclusion” is particularly the case for elderly people who reside in less populated rural areas of the country.
There have been an increasing number of bank branches closing down with the digitalisation of many services taking over. Due to this, a multitude of more traditional people feel as though their banks are forgetting about them and leaving them behind. It is estimated that over 3,000 municipalities are struggling with these circumstances, with many residents not being able to access a physical branch or even make a simple cash withdrawal from an ATM.
This has forced numerous people to travel a further distance just to take out some of their own money from the bank. Over 700,000 people living in Spain do not have easy face-to-face access to their hard-earned cash anymore. An issue that has been steadily creeping in over the past decade or two. From 2008 to 2019, Spain saw the largest number of branch closures in the whole of Europe with almost half of all Spanish branches permanently shutting their doors.
Two of Spain’s largest banks, Caixa and BBVA, then announced thousands of job layoffs in April 2021 -around 12,000 staff members in total, a shocking 16% of the labour pool. From 2021 to 2022, around a further 11% of branches in Spain then closed down in the shift towards digitalisation and in an attempt to cut costs in the stormy financial climate.
Spain is now looking to follow the UK’s lead and introduce banking hubs in an attempt to resolve the issue. The Bank of Spain, alongside other financial institutions, is working to put a programme in place that will cater for more face-to-face banking services in less populated areas.
What is a Banking Hub?
Banking hubs are shared banking spaces that are available to everyone regardless of who they bank with. In the UK, the banking hubs are currently staffed by Post Office employees and operate as an over-the-counter service. Regular banking transactions such as cash deposit or withdrawal, cheque deposit and bill payments can be carried out at these hubs. For those struggling in a cashless society these banking hubs are a lifeline.
The Fight Against Financial Exclusion in Other Countries
- Known as the “Community Access to Cash” scheme, launched in the UK at the end of 2020, the programme proved to be such a success that they continued to move forward with it. After evaluating the results, it was found that banking hubs cover most customers’ needs and that free access to cash had a significant impact on people with lower incomes.
- In Sweden, large banks are legally required to have access points to cash within a 25-kilometre radius to 99.7% of the population whether that be through cash machines or branches. Similar rules are looking to be implemented in the United Kingdom and Finland.
- Cashback in local shops has been a popular introduction in countries such as Luxemburg and the Netherlands. An increase in cashbacks would reduce the need for more ATM’s and banking branches which could prove to be a favourable option for financial providers.
The Bank of Spain’s Objective
After seeing what other countries have done to tackle these issues, the Bank of Spain have considered viable solutions to be implemented across quieter areas of the country, as outlined in their recent report. Their main goal is to facilitate access to banking services for people who live in rural areas and the older population who prefer the more traditional face-to-face exchanges. According to the Bank of Spain’s report, alternative ways to banking services including banking hubs and shared ATMs are to be trialled.
As evidenced, the consensus is that something needs to be done to combat financial exclusion. Other countries have implemented measures to make banking services more accessible for their residents and now Spain are looking for their own solutions in the form of banking hubs and other alternatives.