‘I’m old, not stupid’: How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service 

A 78-year-old Valencian man has collected 220,000 signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, amid a wave of branch closures and more banking services only available online.

An elderly man withdraws money from the now closed Caja de Ahorros Castilla La Mancha bank (CCM). There are now the same number of Spanish bank branches in Spain as in 1977. Photo: Philippe DESMAZES/AFP
An elderly man withdraws money from the now closed Caja de Ahorros Castilla La Mancha bank (CCM). There are now the same number of Spanish bank branches in Spain as in 1977. Photo: Philippe DESMAZES/AFP

With hundreds of branch closures in the last two years in Spain and an increasing number of digital services replacing face-to-face banking, many Spanish seniors feel they’ve been forgotten by their banks.

They’re suffering from the same financial exclusion as many rural communities (which tend to have older populations), forced to travel further to find another branch and struggling to access or understand internet banking.

One 78-year-old Valencian man, Carlos San Juan, has decided to give an online voice to his counterparts by launching a petition on under the slogan “I’m old, not stupid” (Soy mayor, no idiota).

“I am almost 80 years old and it makes me very sad to see that the banks have forgotten older people like me,” San Juan writes.

“Now almost everything is online… and not all of us understand machines. We do not deserve this exclusion. That is why I am calling for more humane treatment at bank branches.”

In the last year, around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have closed down as financial institutions attempt to cut costs under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

Between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.


“They do not stop closing branches,” San Juan explains. 

“Some ATMs are complicated to use, others break down and no one solves your doubts, there are procedures that can only be done online…and in the few places where there is face-to-face service, the opening hours are very limited”.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Spanish banks have closed 2,200 of their ATMs across the country. This means that there are currently 48,300 cajeros (ATMs in Spanish), levels not seen since 2001.

READ ALSO: Spanish banks’ ATMs are disappearing or being replaced: What you need to know

“You have to ask for an appointment by phone but you call and nobody picks up… And they end up redirecting you to an application that, again, we don’t know how to use. Or they send you to a distant branch that you may not have a way to get to.

“I have come to feel humiliated when asking for help at a bank and being spoken to as if I were an idiot for not knowing how to complete an operation.

“This is neither fair nor humane,” San Juan concludes.

These are problems that people of all ages who know how to operate internet banking can empathise with, as not all processes can be done online and Spanish banks have never been renowned for their great customer service or ample working hours.

But for Spain’s elders, not having this face-to face banking service – and a “humane” one at that as San Juan puts it –  is far more problematic for their daily life.

There are now the same amount of bank branches in Spain as in 1977.

If you want to sign Carlos San Juan’s petition on, you can do so here.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.