Joining a bank queue may seem completely unnecessary for those who already do everything online. Most services have been undergoing an intense digitization process in the last year. Finance was almost entirely migrated to applications and websites, with the institutions themselves discouraging going to the branches. However, most Brazilians are still disconnected.
The poorest, least literate and elderly resort to lotteries and physical banks to receive salary, emergency aid, pay bills and manage their finances. As a consequence, these people are forced to expose themselves to the virus to perform all these tasks, while digital resources are not so easily accessible for them.
According to the 2019 ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) survey, 45% of families whose income is up to 1 minimum wage do not have any type of internet access. In total, 28% of Brazilian households are still completely disconnected.
The survey reported the digitization of some and the difficulty of others. Among internet users over 16, 83% of people from classes A and B used e-commerce last year, representing a jump of 144% since 2018. However, the same rate for classes D and E was 44 %.
The digital barrier of Emergency Aid
Simone Morente, 49, told the Techblog who tried three times to apply for emergency assistance, succeeding only on the last attempt. She says she doesn’t even know what the problem was and hasn’t found clear information or support in Caixa’s apps. As a result, of the nine installments of the benefit distributed throughout 2020, Simone did not receive four of them due to the difficulties she had and the lengthy processing.
She is part of the 59% of emergency aid applicants who, as of August 2020, were not successful in receiving the benefit. In addition, 28% of them reported difficulties in accessing, using and understanding the “Emergency Aid” and “Caixa Tem” applications, created by the federal government.
“I access (Case’s applications) by cell phone and when I can’t, I ask my son to do it for me. It’s just that I don’t understand a lot about how to use the internet, websites and stuff, so my son helps me,” she said.
A single mother of two, Simone became unemployed as soon as the pandemic began. Previously, she worked as a waitress in a pizzeria in Angra dos Reis (RJ). According to the conditions for receiving emergency aid, she would be entitled to five installments of R$ 1,200 and another four of R$ 600. However, even though she registered as soon as Caixa made the applications available in April 2020, she only was approved and received its first benefit in September.
Also, for some undisclosed reason, the system understood that Simone did not qualify as a single parent to receive the larger installments. In the end, even having looked for help in applications, on the internet and by phone, Simone was left with five grants of R$ 600 in 2020, never knowing the reasons for so many inconveniences and anguished for losing the money she so needed and knew she had. right.
Traditional finance is preferred even with internet
Simone says she has never had much affinity with technology in general. She has a smartphone with internet access and her house also has Wi-Fi, but even so she depended on her older son’s help to be able to carry out all the registration processes for emergency assistance.
The 2020 COVID-19 ICT Panel monitored the digital behavior of the population during the pandemic. According to the data found, of people who have full access to the internet, 28% of them seem not to have migrated their finances to digital. Services related to social security (such as INSS, FGTS, unemployment insurance, emergency aid or retirement) were still all carried out in person, even with the possibility of doing them through applications or websites.
The barrier to digitization extends beyond Simone’s own difficulty. Fortunately, she got a job in 2021 as a kitchen assistant in a restaurant in Mogi das Cruzes (SP). She earns a little more than minimum wage and her employer pays her in cash, which further discourages her from depositing the amount and managing it through applications. Her only bank account is at Caixa and she believes virtual services are complicated.
Even in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Simone feels more comfortable and secure in keeping her salary in cash in her apartment and physically making all her daily bill payments and purchases. In this way, every month she makes a few visits to lotteries in the region where she lives. As she currently works with a formal contract, she was not approved for 2021 emergency assistance.
“I leave the service and go straight to the lottery. For me it’s easier than getting home and having to use the mobile app, I prefer physical cash in hand. They asked me to create Pix, but I don’t know how to do it either”, said Simone.
She believes that the financial system failed with the population with less accessibility to the internet and technological equipment during the pandemic. “The bank had to find an easier way, if I needed it, imagine these people who really didn’t have any job. The government had to have done in a way that this help would easily reach the people who really need it”.
Seniors lose control of their finances
The problems of lack of connection are even more evident in the elderly population in Brazil. Maria (fictitious name), spoke with the Techblog under the condition of anonymity. At 78 years old, she can’t see well even with her latest glasses. With chronic heart problems and advanced age, she has not left home for absolutely nothing in over a year, even though she has already been vaccinated.
A widow, she lives alone in the interior of São Paulo and has always managed her entire financial life without anyone’s help. Her independence quickly disappeared after the start of the pandemic and she was forced to turn to the help of her only son, with whom she had not had a good relationship since her husband’s death.
Maria always walked to the Caixa Econômica Federal closest to her home to receive her pension. She has a cell phone adapted for the elderly, with very large numbers, which is only for calls. Before her husband died in 2019, she even paid for the internet to make video calls through an old notebook she keeps under her living room desk. However, with his visual problems, he stopped using the machine for years.
Combining her income as a retired seamstress with that of her husband, she says she earned around R$4,000. With cheap rent, her monthly bills and expenses usually only consumed half of her income. The rest she kept in a safe in her house and allowed herself some “extravagances” that she shared with her friends from church and the neighborhood.
“I always did everything alone in my life, I never depended on anyone. Even when my husband was alive, I was the one who managed the house’s accounts, did the market, went every month to the lottery to pay for water and electricity. Now, without being able to leave, my son has to do all this for me, including withdrawing my pension”.
However, Maria is very dissatisfied with how things are working right now. She says she doesn’t even know how much she gets anymore, as she never sees her money in full. Your son cashes out his pension, pays all the bills, does the market, buys his medicine, and usually says he has about R$200 or R$300. “I think it’s horrible to think that, but I’m pretty sure he is pocketing some of my money and I can’t do anything. I’m not in a position to question him”.
Even with grave suspicions, Maria says she is powerless at the moment. “I’ve already tried to ask him to give me the right accounts, but he filled me with receipts that I can’t read because of my vision and told me several numbers that I can’t understand,” said the retiree.
Digitizing some, excluding others
The cases of Simone and Maria are just two realities that represent much broader problems in Brazil. While services are moving towards total digitization, especially in times of social distance, a large portion of the population is more excluded than ever.
The illiteracy rate in Brazil is still 6.6%, according to data from the 2019 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD). This adds up to 45% of poor families who do not have any type of internet access and to 10.15% of the Brazilian population that is over 65 years of age, according to IBGE projections. All these factors contribute to form an essentially disconnected country, further accentuating the social inequality that forces people to expose themselves in bank and lottery lines.
Maria concludes the interview with an important question: “I think it’s great that there are all these things on the internet, it makes people’s lives easier. But what about people like me? What about seniors who have difficulty walking, reading and understanding all this? And who doesn’t even know how to use these things? How do we stay?”