MADRID — As a result of he has Parkinson’s illness, and his shaking palms make it onerous for him to push buttons, Carlos San Juan de Laorden, a retired Spanish physician, finds it troublesome to withdraw his cash from the ATM.

So when in December his financial institution decreased its retail opening hours, after which informed him that the one method of reaching a buyer consultant was by making an appointment utilizing an app he discovered too difficult, Mr. San Juan, 78, felt not solely distressed but additionally wronged.

“I used to be politely informed that I may change financial institution if I didn’t prefer it,” he mentioned. “I’ve stored my cash in the identical financial institution for 51 years, since I received my first paycheck, and it hurts to see that the digital world has dehumanized us to the purpose that loyalty has misplaced all of its price.”

Infuriated, Mr. San Juan began a web based petition that he referred to as “I’m Outdated, Not an Fool,” arguing that banks and different establishments ought to serve all residents, quite than sideline the oldest and most susceptible members of society of their rush to on-line providers.

In two months, his petition gathered greater than 600,000 signatures, attracting the eye of the native media and finally forcing the banks and Spain’s authorities to reply. Mr. San Juan turned one thing of a minor movie star in Spain, and was invited on to a string of TV reveals to speak about himself and his marketing campaign.

In February, Mr. San Juan attended the signing of a protocol on the financial ministry in Madrid wherein banks pledged to supply higher buyer providers to senior residents, together with by extending once more their department opening hours, giving precedence to older folks to entry counters and likewise simplifying the interface of their apps and net pages.

Throughout the signing ceremony, José María Roldán, the president of the Spanish Financial institution Affiliation, thanked Mr. San Juan for highlighting an issue that he mentioned banks had missed. “Now we have seen that new measures are wanted with the intention to not go away behind susceptible teams” of individuals, mentioned Mr. Roldán, whose affiliation consists of banking giants like Banco Santander and BBVA.

Spain has one of many world’s quickest aging populations, with 9.3 million people over the age of 65 who now account for one fifth of its residents. Earlier than the pandemic hit, Spain was projected to overhaul Japan because the nation with the longest life expectancy on this planet, in response to a study by the Institute for Well being Metrics and Analysis, in Seattle.

However over the previous decade, Spain’s banking community has additionally shrunk dramatically, following a monetary disaster that compelled the nation to barter a world bailout in 2012. Whereas there was once a financial institution workplace in virtually each Spanish village and at each metropolis crossroads, Spanish banks have halved their variety of branches to about 20,000 because the disaster.

Mr. San Juan shouldn’t be a Luddite — for this text, he used WhatsApp and Skype. However he believes older adults shouldn’t pay the worth for a web based transition that has allowed banks and different establishments to make important workers cuts and different financial savings.

In truth, Mr. San Juan mentioned it was ironic that few of the senior residents whom his petition sought to defend appeared to have been amongst its signatories, probably as a result of they weren’t on-line. Nonetheless, he mentioned, “many youthful folks really feel sympathy for us, beginning with my very own granddaughters who’ve been very nervous about my well being and plenty of others who now have an older member of the family who can’t deal with apps, and in some instances any person who can’t afford a smartphone.”

Mr. San Juan was compelled into early retirement 13 years in the past, when he was recognized with Parkinson’s and the shaking made it very onerous for him to hold out his hospital work as a urologist in his house metropolis of Valencia, in jap Spain. Mr. San Juan has since spent his time listening to jazz and studying historical past books and spy novels — till he turned an unlikely activist.

Whereas acknowledging that the digital transition was unstoppable, Mr. San Juan mentioned the authorities and main establishments had an obligation to make the change “much less abrupt” for older and susceptible folks. Virtually each public group or personal company is now forcing folks to speak on-line, together with within the well being care sector, the place Mr. San Juan labored his complete life.

Have been it not for Parkinson’s, Mr. San Juan mentioned he would have wished to work extra years, though he seems to be with some skepticism at adjustments within the occupation that require extra distant consultations with sufferers.

“For me, drugs is a human therapy, which requires trying a affected person within the eyes, speaking and maybe consoling if that’s what’s required.”

Mr. San Juan additionally famous {that a} mannequin of Spanish society wherein totally different generations used to reside beneath the identical roof, and assist one another, was altering quick, placing extra stress on previous folks. When he was youthful, Mr. San Juan lived for some time together with his solely grandmother. And after his mother-in-law was widowed, she spent her final 15 years residing with him and his spouse.

He added that he had lengthy been attuned to the challenges confronted by the aged because of his medical specialty.

“As a result of I’m a urologist, most of my sufferers have been older folks, so I’ve at all times had a transparent understanding of the sense of helplessness and the struggling that may include age,” he mentioned.

As for the banks, Mr. San Juan mentioned that his disappointment was fueled by the truth that the establishments didn’t hesitate to ask for billions in taxpayers’ money to rescue them through the monetary disaster a decade in the past. However when Covid-19 began to unfold, he mentioned, the identical banks used the pandemic as an excuse to shut extra branches. Over 3,000 branches shuttered in Spain between the second quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2021, in response to information from the Bank of Spain.

“The coronavirus has been an ideal excuse for banks and others to power folks to remain away and act like robots, whereas additionally making their shoppers do the work that financial institution workers used to do,” he mentioned.

Some banks took measures to offset their decreased footprint. In 2020, Banco Santander signed an settlement with the Spanish mail service to permit its shoppers to withdraw money at publish places of work in about 1,500 municipalities the place the financial institution doesn’t have a department. However with tens of millions of retirees compelled to withdraw their pension funds from banks, Mr. San Juan believes the establishments nonetheless have a protracted technique to go by way of caring for these whose financial savings they depend on, quite than prioritizing their shareholders.

“The banks have to preserve our pension cash, however that ought to both oblige them to essentially act as a public service, or power the federal government to supply us a special technique to pay money for the cash that’s ours,” he mentioned. “You can’t anticipate previous folks to queue for hours within the baking solar or within the rain with the intention to get their life financial savings.”


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