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Alba Iulia
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A time bomb that crunches the economy: union and internal pressure on the government keep banks closed

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Banks have to be part of the solution and not of the problem… Society would not forgive us that now that this hard blow has come we would not support SMEs, companies and the self-employed, after all that has happened“, He says Nieves Vallespín, an employee of the Santander bank in Madrid, in a note published in El País.

The Spanish newspaper also quotes Emma Moreno, director of a Bankia branch in Granada, and Laura, who works in a BBVA office in Las Palmas. “I see the bank determined to support customers with difficulties, it is not a pose. You want to facilitate the mortgage moratorium or the credits with guarantees. There is a conviction that the situation is complicated and we have to push to get ahead, “says Laura.

The Bank of Spain agreed that part of the bank branches and all ATMs are open during the emergency “to provide basic financial services”, as it is a “public service” There, banks believe that the economic and health emergency is an opportunity to change their image before society.

Beyond fears and the fact that Spain is already the second country in the world in the number of deaths from the coronavirus, banks maintain attention to the public, while in Argentina they do not.

The closure of Argentina’s bank branches began on March 19 and will, in principle, as announced, last until March 31. Will it extend? Two senior representatives of local banks assured him Infobae that they are willing to open and analyze schemes to do so, but that the context does not favor that discussion at the moment.

To the viralized scenes of hundreds of people queuing at ATMs in the suburbs, payments will be added starting next week that are vital in this context of quarantine and extreme uncertainty: 10 million Argentines will receive retirement and AUH, and 6 million their wages. All that in the beginning of April. A few days later, again 6.3 million will stop in front of an ATM to collect the extraordinary bonus of Anses of $ 10,000 that the Government announced the week that passed.

In closing, local banks have the backing of the Central Bank, which claims to abide by the directives of the Ministry of Health of the Nation, which vehemently maintains the need to maintain “social distancing” and reduce the circulation of the virus as much as possible. The main banks, meanwhile, assure that they want to open and that they could discuss mixed schemes, but that the union pressure to the contrary is very strong.

Now, what difference would there be between workers excluded from quarantine for fulfilling essential services – supermarkets, security forces, pharmacy managers and obviously all health professionals – and bank employees? Considering that their task is essential in a system that is still highly dependent on cash, especially among the poorest sectors, which explains the long queues to withdraw money.

On March 19 the Banking Association, the union of bank employees issued a statement stating that “there will be no public service until March 31”, invoking compliance with the measures of “social, preventive and mandatory isolation” provided by the Government. Sergio Palazzo, union secretary of La Bancaria, not only has a very good link with Kirchnerism, but he is also the most “albertista” of the union leaders.

“Banks have total internal commercial activity. 600,000 checks were processed yesterday. The mess was built because they paid everything together, 10 benefits in one day. With the banks open it would have been worse. This is a decision of the Ministry of Health. I believe that the closure paid off, we must encourage electronic instruments and that people stay at home “, Told him Palazzo to Infobae.

From La Bancaria they assure that they have not yet spoken with the entities about opening alternatives.

In its original statement, on March 19, the union had maintained that “in communication with the President of the Central Bank, Miguel PesceWe have confirmed that the only exception will be a minimum provision necessary to guarantee the attention of electronic operations and the supply of ATMs, as will be communicated by the entities. “

With each passing day, the situation becomes more tense, because the electronic and “non-face-to-face” methods devised to attend to different situations do not cover all cases, particularly when it comes to caring for groups such as retirees and –now– the recipients of social plans. Some banks set up ATMs, per case.

The Central Bank also does not seem to strongly encourage electronic use for those who have alternatives to do so. It could, for example, invoke the solidarity of the banked to use digital media. Other “ways to withdraw cash are communicated from the Government. The same, nothing seems to achieve: in a comparative survey that the State itself did – last year, during the government of Mauricio Macri – added branches, ATMs, correspondents and self-service terminals (TAS) Argentina had at the end of 2018 a total figure of 8.6 access points per 10,000 adults, against 32.6 in Colombia, 24 in Brazil and 17.7 in Mexico.

The Central Bank, meanwhile, insists that the Argentine financial system “has more than 18,000 ATMs distributed throughout the country that allow cash to be withdrawn from any type of account in local currency” and that sometimes ATMs they do not have cash is not for lack of tickets but for “logistical problems”. In addition, they add, there are another 17,500 “cash draw” points. For example, in supermarkets.

The pressure increases as the emergency amounts provided by the government for these sectors are complicated by the closure of the banks, despite the methods devised to solve them. Not by chance, the director of the Anses, Alejandro Vanoli, who distributes those funds, suggested that the banks asked to serve the public, something that neither the banks nor the Central Bank confirmed.

The BCRA says that it will strictly abide by the directives of the Minister of Health, Ginés González García.

Banks fear that even a partial reopening will generate “pockets of contagion” in branches. The reopening has additional complications. For example, in the current situation cash is only supplied to ATMs, but if instead the service to the public were to be restarted, the carriers should take the money to the Treasures of the banks, which implies additional personnel and even more unions involved (truckers and private security, in addition to the banking union).

The banks believe that with his comment on the possibility of banks reopening public attention, Vanoli tried to get rid of the problem of the recipients of social plans to whom he promised help but does not know how to get there. The pressure in the suburbs and in the towns due to the quarantine and the problems of lack of income and food is strong and greatly worries the so-called “village priests” and the Buenos Aires government.

But when the monetary authority itself points out that people have 17,500 cash withdrawal points at their disposal in addition to bank ATMs, a striking contrast appears. Many of those spots are in supermarkets. And that is known, the employees of supermarkets – in particular those who take care of the boxes – although they certainly provide an essential service with a higher frequency of attention (for the provision of food) do not have special immunity against the coronavirus compared to bank employees.

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