Gran Canaria Banks: A Story with a Sad Ending

Let me tell you a short story about the Gran Canaria banks. Once upon a time, there were two state banks in the Canary Islands: La Caja de Canarias (Gran Canaria) and Cajacanarias (Tenerife). Due to the recession, the Central Bank of Spain suggested that they merge, but the selfish and brainless managers didn’t want any layoffs, so they merged with other state banks in mainland Spain, who had no offices in the Canaries.

La Caja de Canarias merged with a group of other banks. They were called Bankia. Cajacanarias merged with a few others and were known as Banca Civica, until the Caixa bank came and gobbled them up. Caixa bank merged with Bankia in 2021. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, because many of the employees have been “invited” to either leave or work on the mainland branches. After these mergers, there is almost nothing left of what used to be Canarian banks.

What’s Going on with Gran Canaria Banks

When Covid hit, banks used it as a good excuse to continue downsizing and shutting down offices. From the bank’s point of view, this is great for productivity. From the consumer’s point of view, this isn’t great. This is what happens when the staff is short:

  • Long queues outside the bank. Everyone is attended by just one person who will try to sort out a problem or tell them to sit down and wait for another colleague. You may need an appointment to speak to your account manager. 
  • Higher commissions and account maintenance fees.
  • Reduced hours (eg. 2 hours a day, generally 9-11 a.m.) or no human bank teller at all. Clients are encouraged to use internet banking and ATMs for all transactions.
  • When you phone the bank, you will be lucky if they pick it up. If you phone your account manager, you may need to leave a message in their voicemail and they will get back to you (maybe). 

In May 2022, after the big Covid waves, nothing has changed: long queues, limited staff, etc.

Gran Canaria Banks: “The Big Four”

These banks control the finance sector throughout the island, as well as the rest of Spain:

1) Banco Sabadell Atlantico: Reasonable rates.

2) Santander Group: Great bank for the rich, not for the middle class.

3) BBVA (website in Spanish) - This is one of the strongest and most modern banks in Spain. 

4) Caixabank - This bank has the best ATMs and you can do all kinds of transactions, even if you aren't their customer. Try to understand their rates and commissions before opening an account, to avoid unpleasant surprises later. 

The latest Samsung products, which you can buy at almost a good price, are displayed inside the office.

How to deal with Spanish & Gran Canaria banks: 6 things to keep in mind while opening an account

When choosing Gran Canaria banks, it is quite difficult as there are so many. My personal experience suggests that one must be very careful while opening an account, because of surprise commissions, or unexpected changes in what they charge for maintaining a current account.

You must be aware that if you have an account for example with Santander in the UK, it is no good in Spain, because you will be unable to do anything with it through any Spanish branch of the same bank. You will have to open another account, and re-negotiate the conditions.

If you're a tourist, it’s quite easy to open a non-resident bank account in Gran Canaria banks. All you need is your passport, and you may be asked for documentation to justify the origin of the funds, to prevent money laundering. You can even request all the correspondence to be sent by e-mail, so no one will ever know that you have a bank account. It is not necessary to have an address in Spain. Unlike many banks in other countries, cash deposits are welcome in Spanish banks.

Eventually, it is recommended to get a resident account. All you need is a NIE (Spanish tax) number, and a proof of your Spanish address (phone or electricity bill, or rent contract). You will save a lot of money in commissions with this type of account, compared to the non-resident account.

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind while opening an account in any of the Gran Canaria banks:

1) Always ask for a no commission account – Most banks have a no commission account if you pledge to put a fixed amount every month if you’re self-employed, or have your wages put directly month after month (as a salary or pension). Some banks will request an unreasonable amount of money spent on their products, avoid them.

2) Never buy any bank product offered to you by the clerks. Instead, request what you really need. Due to the recession, bank lending has gone down, and staff are under pressure to push useless investment products, which they don’t fully understand. They will always tell clients they are great products and that the capital is guaranteed, even if you need to recover the money in case of emergency. My experience tells that even in a normal fixed deposit, the commission charged (if you withdraw before the maturity date) can eat into your capital. Stay away from anything that isn't a fixed deposit, or current account, even if you are promised a higher interest rate.

In May 2022, when everyone knows that interest rates will rise soon, they're trying to offer government bonds at 1.5% interest, and you must block your money for 5 years!

3) Don’t let them dump you with credit cards you don’t really need, especially if they tempt you by telling you that the first year is free, or that they can waive 50% of the commission this time, “as a special favour.” Only accept them when they are part of the free package.

4) Choose a bank that let’s you withdraw cash from the (human) teller at any time, and not force you to use an ATM in the middle of the street. Most banks tell their clients to this and have removed humans that handle cash.

5) Choose a bank that let’s you do internet banking, and whose staff can attend you in your own language. 

6) Cash deposit charges: If you're setting up an internet business, or if you will have other people deposit cash in your account (not by telegraph transfer), from any part of Spain, you will need a bank that doesn't charge for depositing in your account. Most banks charge a fee when someone else goes to the bank, and wants to put cash in your account, even if it is your own mother, wife, or husband. I know it's crazy, but the Bank of Spain is allowing it to happen as a general practice. There are a couple of banks who don't charge, so shop around, if your account will get regular cash deposits from customers, couriers, or family.

Recommended Gran Canaria Banks

It is fairly difficult to choose from the different Gran Canaria banks, because it really depends what you want out of them. What you really need is a bank that has standard and transparent price policies, so that even if the manager changes, you will still be charged what you were offered originally. 

In the past, we had recommended the Dutch ING Direct.  This world-famous bank is conveniently located in the same street as the Spanish "El Corte Ingles" department stores. It only has this one office on the island. They open mornings and evenings. Cash deposits have to be put inside the ATMs. Unfortunately, service has deteriorated in the last few years and clients are unhappy (the average Trustpilot rating has dropped to 1.7). It is normal to see long queues outside. Independent professionals and companies are no longer welcome.

Before you decide to deal with a specific bank, always shop around, compare rates and the human factor. Were you treated properly? Will they help when you have a problem? Did you see long queues? Do they pick up the phone? Did they show any interest? You'd be surprised to know that there is a small bank that doesn't open new accounts unless you buy many of their products or services.

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