Technology is everywhere and banking entities are no exception. However, what may seem perfect to some, may be an obstacle to others. This is why DECO is deeply concerned about the digital exclusion of vulnerable consumers, namely the elderly population.

What is going on?

In the last two years, we have seen the closure of a massive number of bank branches and ATMs. According to Banco de Portugal, the number of branches has been reduced by 25 percent between 2017 and 2020.

The network of ATMs and branches of credit institutions has also decreased. Indeed, there are 24 more parishes located 15 kilometres from the nearest ATM (in a straight line) or belonging to municipalities where each ATM serves more than 100 km of territory.

Challenges of digitisation

DECO welcomes the ongoing digitalisation of the financial services and digital banking, but considers that this change also entails different costs and effects on Portuguese consumers.

As a consequence, the proximity between the bank and the customer has been lost, as more and more branches and ATM accesses have been closed, mainly for people living in depopulated villages. “Even with the reduction in cash payments, this is a strong limitation on the basic payment needs of the most vulnerable and the elderly population”, DECO said.

Making consumers more resilient

"In line with the recommendations of the EU's new consumer agenda, it will be important to build consumer resilience for a sustainable recovery, by promoting their interests and ensuring a high level of protection, taking into account their needs," said DECO.

"The ongoing digital transformation, accelerated by the pandemic, has had a less positive effect on some consumers, whose security and access to financial services are not immediately ensured," they added.

Older people are in this situation. According to DECO, some of them are not happy with the treatment they receive from their bank and have sent DECO several complaints and concerns that they feel they have been "left out in the cold" or "have to travel miles to go to the bank or withdraw money".

More financial and digital literacy

Many 'senior' consumers use online banking, but not all feel they have the information and knowledge to do so, and feel frustrated and excluded. And those who do feel that banking applications need to be not only clear, but also transparent and simple. Also, most mention the need for more customised service, highlighting the lack of branches and ATM’s, as well as the need for longer opening hours.

What DECO has been doing?

DECO has proposed specific measures to support vulnerable consumers - who are low-skilled or who do not have access to the internet at all - through:

- Personalised service hours at branches of financial institutions and support for the use of ATMs;

- Creation of a preferential channel, for example, a free customer service phone line, working during extended hours;

- Geographical extension of the ATM network, covering the national territory and guaranteeing access to cash, mainly for populations outside cities, inland and at the borders;

- Simplification of access to digital channels and online banking, in terms of language and usage;

- Promoting digital financial literacy and fraud prevention.

Are you affected by the closure of bank branches and ATMs? If so, please report your concerns to DECO, by email through gas@deco.pt.