How does a town without ATMs work?

Navata organises vote to solve cash access problem

3 min
At the door with the white painted glass there used to be a branch of Banco Santander, which closed three months ago. Since then there is no ATM in the village.

NavataMaria Carme is 87 years old and has no credit card or online banking application. Until three months ago, whenever she needed to, she would always go to the cash machine in the centre of Navata, the village in Alt Empordà where she lives, to withdraw money with her bankbook. But Banco Santander decided to close it and, since then, all the villagers have to go to Figueres or Besalú every time they want cash. "But I'm not very well and I don't feel strong enough to take the bus to Figueres", explains the neighbour. Now it is his son who has to go to him to get money, but this dependency gave him a scare a couple of weeks ago. "My son was in close contact with a covid-positive person and couldn't come for more than ten days. And I was worried about running out of money and not being able to buy food". A whole series of damages that have complicated the daily lives of the residents of the 480 Catalan municipalities (more than 50% of the total) that, like Navata, do not have any ATMs.

A report by the Ramón Areces Foundation states that 5,256 bank branches have been closed in Catalonia in the last 12 years, 64% of those that existed in the past. A general decline that has become evident in towns such as the one in Alt Empordà: "It is not understood that, between the 80s and 90s, when we were not even 800 inhabitants, there were four bank branches. And now that we are almost 1,400 residents there are none left", protests the mayor, Jaume Homs, who criticises that Santander closed the only ATM that was left in the village three months ago. "For the banks we are no longer people, we are just numbers", he laments. So he decided to look for solutions on his own and organise a vote for residents to choose which alternative they prefer to withdraw money without leaving the municipality.

Losing a morning to withdraw money

Despite the fact that in most establishments you can pay with a card, there are people who don't have one or who prefer to pay in cash, because that's how they've done it all their lives. But if you don't have an ATM in your town, you will have to move around and not everywhere enjoys good public transport connections. To get from Navata to Figueres by bus, for example, there are only nine services a day on weekdays, four of them before midday. And this means that practically a whole morning is needed every time someone has to go to get money, which is the situation Xavier Navarro is in, as he takes care of his mother, who depends on him.

"Before we could withdraw money in the village, but now I have to go to Figueres and spend one of the two mornings I have free. The closure has damaged us very much", he admits. In addition, lately, there is a long queue in the offices of the capital of Alt Empordà and he prefers to go to Besalú "so as not to waste the whole morning".

Xavier Navarro still does not know how he will vote in the consultation that the City Council has organised between 1 and 15 June and where five alternatives are proposed to get cash money back without leaving the village. On the one hand, a CaixaBank cash machine could be installed in a public building, which would cost 1,089 euros a month, not counting the cost of installation and fitting out. The second option is a private Cardtronic ATM on the public road, which costs 665 euros per month and 2.95 euros per withdrawal if the bank does not have an agreement with the company.

On the other hand, for Santander customers, there is the possibility of signing an agreement with Correos, so that they can withdraw or deposit between 10 and 2,500 euros in the office that is in the town, at no cost.

The City Council also proposes to hire a taxi service for residents who cannot move, and that would amount to about 2,000 euros per year. Finally, training older people in the use of cards and online banking, which would cost around 500 euros.

Equal treatment

The consultation is not binding, but the government team will take it into account to make a decision. "And if we see that there is no clear winning option, we may have to look for another alternative", admits the mayor, who, depending on the chosen proposal, will have to make modifications to the budget to cover the cost.

This is another point also criticised by some residents like Xavier and Pacu, who ask: "If banks make so much profit, why does the council have to pay for a service that they should provide? Don't we deserve the same services that they do provide in big cities for free?"