"I wanted to close the account and I ended up owing money to the bank": the digital divide punishes the elderly

A few days ago, a letter to the editor arrived at the editorial office of La Vanguardia that reported on the problem of the digital divide to which the elderly are subjected and the little attention that those who have been left behind in the digital revolution sometimes receive.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
12 February 2024 Monday 21:22
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"I wanted to close the account and I ended up owing money to the bank": the digital divide punishes the elderly

A few days ago, a letter to the editor arrived at the editorial office of La Vanguardia that reported on the problem of the digital divide to which the elderly are subjected and the little attention that those who have been left behind in the digital revolution sometimes receive. . The banking digitalization process has meant a drastic change in the way we relate to customers. The letter reported the following:

The Antonio Sedó case could be an anecdote but it is paradigmatic. His wife recently died and he had to cancel a joint account resulting from their marriage. According to him, without his complete knowledge, he was charged maintenance expenses that left the balance in negative, so he was not allowed to cancel it. The man, upon going to the branch of his entity to close his account personally and speak with someone at the window, found that the entity had closed that branch. "I had my office next to my house; now I don't know where I have it," he explains to La Vanguardia.

"I was informed where the new branch is but I don't remember it now," confesses Sedó. Meanwhile, time has passed, and maintenance costs and non-payment penalties were charged, which reached almost 160 euros.

This is an 89-year-old man, who does not live outside his home, and who only communicates with the entity through calls and "a couple of emails" that, he adds, received no response. According to him, no one called him to talk and they only demanded the money owed.

After the complaint published in La Vanguardia and reproduced by RAC1, the story has taken a turn. A few hours later, Sedó informed the newspaper that the bank had contacted him to settle the issue and, always according to his version, will not charge him the amount of the non-payments.

The banking entity in question, Banco Sabadell, has not gone into details about the solution they have offered to this client based on the confidentiality of the data, although they wanted to make it clear that they were not aware of any complaints through their enabled channels. However, it has stressed its commitment to vulnerable groups and remembers that they have numerous tools to help the elderly adapt to digitalization.

The entity also wanted to highlight that its "constant support" and its "specific attention policies" mark a "clear difference" with other banks, and that it has recently carried out new measures such as "extending cashier hours until 2:00 p.m." and the availability "of a free personal assistance telephone number for clients over 70 years of age between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. and the 24-hour incident service every day of the year."

The case of Antonio Sedó is an example of what experts call financial exclusion. And bank account management has changed a lot over the years: from passbooks to mobile applications. This digitization, according to Verónica Rodríguez, head of communication at Asufin (Association of Financial Users), is coherent and inevitable. But, unquestionably, it should be at two speeds because "the elderly and people with disabilities cannot be left unattended" who are usually the most affected in these processes of change.

Rodríguez assures that the optimal thing is to maintain an "analog bubble" that keeps this entire group of people connected to these efforts. He even placed more emphasis on banking issues since he states that "it is an essential service for living and it is necessary to have it under control." At Asufin they work to guarantee that these people are treated within the legal framework and that their rights are not violated due to ignorance. In February 2022, a protocol was signed between banking associations establishing the commitment to preserve and reinforce personalized attention to those who needed it, especially people over 65 years of age.

In different studies presented by Asufin, carried out in order to verify that this pact is being fulfilled, there are data such as that in 70% of cases, the personal advisor promised by the banks is not available to serve clients. . It has also been observed that operations carried out over the counter entail costs that they do not have digitally. This is a notable fact considering that 70% of seniors do not use their mobile phone to carry out regular transactions with the bank.

In any case, despite the fact that the allocation of resources for the care of the elderly is subject to the strategy of closing branches and reducing staff, Verónica Rodríguez declares that improvements have been noted, still "slow", in terms of attention in the offices.

From the OCU (Organització de Consumindors i Users de Catalunya), it is indicated that financial abuse is the second cause of abuse in our elders, so it is essential to develop specific regulations to protect them and to promote digital and financial literacy of this Social sector.