Business 14/01/2022

Ombudsman investigates social impact of closing bank offices

Agency requests information on restructuring plans from four main banks

P. S. A.
2 min
ATMs on a street in Girona.

BarcelonaThe Catalan ombudsman has announced this Friday that it will investigate ex officio the impact the closure of bank branches has on vulnerable population. In a statement, the Ombudsman has pointed out that financial services are "of general interest" and, therefore, the administration has to guarantee access to all people, respecting a minimum of quality and at an affordable price. According to the data provided by the agency, 12% of the population has problems accessing these services, either because of the physical distance from the closest branch or because of a lack of understanding of the systems (for example, the elderly may have more difficulties using online banking).

For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman has approached the Bank of Spain and the four main banks operating in Catalonia (CaixaBank, BBVA, Banco Sabadell and Banco Santander) to ask them for more information on their plans to restructure their commercial network. In its questions, the body asks them about the regulation of the opening and closing of branches, how many branches they have eliminated in the past two years, which of the physical branches have been replaced by mobile branches or support staff, and what is the most common means of payment by customers.

An impediment for the elderly

On the other hand, the institution, still directed by Rafael Ribó, has said it is aware of the problems suffered by the elderly to carry out financial transactions and to have cash, a fact that "often requires moving to other villages with the consequent loss of time and money". In fact, in early December 2021, he started an inquiry to find out the reasons behind banks' progressive reduction of their personal attention network.

The Catalan Ombudsman's law empowers him to supervise the activity of private companies that manage or carry out public services and, consequently, banking activity in cases considered essential, as is the case of care for vulnerable people. Organisations such as the consumer association Adicae and the Sindicat d'Estalvi de Catalunya have highlighted on several occasions that the problem of access to financial services for the elderly has worsened with the closure of branches, a situation that became evident, for example, with the merger of BBVA and CatalunyaCaixa.