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In recent years, traditional banking has been forced to adapt its business model as a result of, among other factors, technological developments allowing many financial services to be rendered digitally.
Besides this technological revolution, branch numbers are also falling for other reasons. These include a number of bank mergers, which frequently lead to the merged banks having duplicate branches.
At the end of 2008, there were 45,662 branches in Spain. By June 2020 they had fallen by 49% to 23,340 branches. This decrease has been more noticeable in Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid (where branch numbers have fallen by 61%, 55% and 52%, respectively, between end-2008 and mid-2020).
Nevertheless, if we compare the number of bank branches per 100,000 adults in Spain with other European countries, Spain is still well above the euro area average. In 2019 there were approximately 50 branches per 100,000 adults in Spain, compared to 22 branches in the euro area. The ratios of Italy, Portugal, France, Greece and Germany are lower than Spain’s.
On the road to digitalisation…
Bank branch closures are not a problem for many customers since they prefer to interact with their bank via digital channels. This means that banks are focusing on enhancing their digital banking services.
Digitalising banking helps banks reach more of the population without needing to have an extensive branch network, establish business relationships easily with the previously unbanked and operate where they have no branch or sales representatives.
…a digital gap widens.
However, despite digitalisation granting a larger number of people access to financial services, our society must avoid the financial exclusion of those encountering difficulties to access digital channels and establish appropriate mechanisms to fully minimise the possible technology risks posed by the digital transformation.
Narrowing the digital gap is a global objective, yet it is true that there will always be people who find joining the digital world difficult for various circumstances. Old age, a lack of digital training or living in rural areas with scant bank branch presence means that this issue affects a sizeable group of the population.
To tackle it, banks are developing other channels, such as mobile branches and financial agents travelling to locations without a bank branch to serve customers regularly.
They also reach agreements with other firms with a more extensive network of establishments to render some of their financial services, such as cash deposits and withdrawals at Correos post offices or cash withdrawals at some supermarkets and petrol stations.