This is how the banking sector is mapping out the path towards a service that is accessible to all.
It is not unreasonable to claim that the most enduring relationship in our lives is probably the one we have with our bank. This statement, perhaps an exaggeration for many, has a good deal of truth to it: there are few services that we have enjoyed for more years than those provided by our bank.
According to Alberto Aza, spokesman for CECA, the banking association that brings together some of the most important banks in our country, such as CaixaBank, Kutxabank and Cajasur Banco, Abanca, Unicaja Banco, Ibercaja Banco, Caixa Ontinyent, Colonya Pollença and Cecabank, "banking services offer opportunities to progress throughout every stage of a customer's life. That is what sets it apart. The financial needs of a young person embarking on their professional life, an adult family with children, or an elderly person who wants to live comfortably in their retirement years are not the same".
But the way we access financial services has changed significantly in recent years, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Banking services were traditionally offered in branches, but as new technologies have advanced, more and more customers prefer to conduct their transactions online or via mobile phone applications.
According to data compiled by FUNCAS, CECA's economic and social research think tank, some 36.4% of Spaniards access their bank every day or almost every day via digital media, which is twice as many as before the pandemic. This has not gone unnoticed by CECA's member entities, which have always been committed to the continuous improvement of the service model offered to their customers.
"We have diversified our customer service channels like never before", says Alberto Aza. "All with the sole purpose of adapting the service to changes in consumer habits and the specific preferences of the different types of customers. It is evident that there are customers who prefer to avoid travel and want to do business with their bank digitally or over the phone", he continues, "but there are others who want to be serviced face-to-face in a branch. There is even a further group that resides in rural areas and needs to be serviced through alternative channels that banks make available to them".
In this adaptation of the way services are provided depending on the type of customer, the elderly, who suffer more than others from the impact of the digital divide, require special attention. "Among the specific measures we have implemented to alleviate the difficulties of the elderly are, for example, the extension of cash services, the training of branch staff on the specific needs of this group, and preferential attention to senior customers", says Alberto Aza. "We have also implemented measures to facilitate the digital interaction of the elderly, for example by adapting and improving the usability of ATMs or digital applications, as well as reinforcing digital financial education programmes".
An effort that is paying off, according to surveys: some 34.1% of people between the ages of 60 and 70 access their digital banking on a daily basis, a figure that exceeds the 18-29 age group, which only stands at 31%, according to FUNCAS data.
It is no secret that among the most important challenges facing banking is the provision of services to elderly people who also live in isolated rural areas. CECA sector banks have not forgotten these customers and have created alternative and flexible channels such as mobile branches, popularly known as ofibuses, or financial agents. "More recently", says Alberto Aza, "we are also relying on the assistance of non-bank partners, such as post offices or retail outlets, to ensure that our customers have access to cash".
In the future, according to the CECA spokesman, "banking will continue to move towards a hybrid service model in which face-to-face service will continue to coexist with digital channels. On the one hand, there will be a concentration and reorientation of branches so that they focus on personalised consultancy, and on the other hand, digital channels will be reinforced by technological advances, which will make them more functional as well as more intuitive and human".
In short, the service will continue to adapt to technological changes and customer preferences with the goal of being at the forefront, but without relinquishing the human and professional quality that has historically characterised banking. "Although we are moving towards a hyper-digitalised society", concludes Alberto Aza, "the excellence of banking services will continue to rest with the people who make it possible every day".