Within a three hundred yard radius of where I live here in Spain there are 12 bank branches. If anyone living in the UK today was to claim this they would be told to go and lie down and come back when they feel better. From over 20,000 branches in 1988, the UK is now rapidly approaching 7,000 with more closures being announced every year. But although Spanish banks are also implementing branch closures now, Spain still has four times as many branches per head of the population as the UK. In my town we used to have two Santander branches within 50 yards of each other but rather than close one they just moved it further up the road!
The other day I was in the rare situation of needing to pay some money into my bank account rather than taking it out. Blowing the dust off my bank details, I undertook the challenging 2 minute walk to my local branch and walked straight into the back of a long queue. There were four staff in the cashier office, but three of them were joking with the one attendant manning a window while the queuing customers stared impatiently in the vain hope that fierce looks would encourage them to speed up a bit or perhaps even open another window. As I stood there watching the slow, leisurely pace of life within that bank, I was reminded of how banking felt in England back in the old days – those golden, olden times when we used to have branches in every town and online banking wasn’t even a gleam in anybody’s eye. Yet back then a visit to your bank to withdraw £10 did mean standing in a queue behind someone applying for a mortgage, everything required bits of paper and the staff always looked very busy attending to business but rarely attended to customers. Although banking in Spain is not exactly like this today, it still feels a little bit as though it is, and they do certainly like their bits of paper. If there is a word for nostalgia that doesn’t evoke lovely memories – and I propose ‘nastalgia’ – then I felt a slight whiff of it standing there.
Obviously banks here have online banking too, and this is my first choice unless I have no option, as I really don’t like standing aimlessly in a stuffy bank for 25 minutes. Those in the know predict that as online usage grows, then much like Britain, bank closures in Spain will accelerate. As banks try to stem losses, mergers are also on the cards so again that could contribute to local branch decline. I expect then, that in 10 years’ time when I look back at the opening sentence of this article having just driven 5 miles to get to the nearest bank, I will feel much like many people in the UK do now as they see the last bank in town close its doors – nostalgia rather than nastalgia.