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Ghost Banks Limp Along in Argentina, Staying Open as Costly ATMs

Argentine banks lag peers in shutting branches to cut costs

An empty Santander bank branch in the Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

An empty Santander bank branch in the Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

Photographer: Erica Canepa/Bloomberg

On a weekday afternoon in Buenos Aires, a guard stands watch outside an empty bank. It’s not just devoid of customers: Though the lights are on and Banco Santander’s signature red-and-white decor remains, there isn’t a single employee inside. 

Ghost branches like this one — no longer serving clients who require anything beyond an ATM, but not technically closed — have become a common sight in Argentina. As customers increasingly do their banking via smartphone apps and online, Santander and Argentine rivals including BBVA Argentina, Grupo Financiero Galicia and Grupo Supervielle, like their global peers, are pushing to close physical locations. But regulators won’t let them.