​​​​​​Spanish savings banks 1839 - 2010


The Savings Banks of Spain are private foundations which combine two functions, one financial and the other social. As financial institutions, the Savings Banks manage more than half of the resources invested by domestic companies and households, and are the leading players on the credit side of the financial system. Within the social aspect of their financial activities, the Savings Banks focus particularly on avoiding financial exclusion and promoting economic development and social progress within the communities where they are based.

Although a social focus informs all of the Savings Banks' activities, this commitment is most clearly seen in the various socio-cultural projects organised under the Obra Social scheme. A significant part of the Savings Banks' surpluses, 25.5% of net profits in 2008 (over €2 billion), is allocated to the main social needs, such as social inclusion programmes for those groups suffering the greatest problems and help for the most needy. The environment, education and research, cultural activities, the restoration and preservation of historic and artistic heritage represent the other areas where the Obra Social is particularly active.

At the death of the absolutist King Fernando VII in 1833, the new policy made it possible for Spanish liberals arriving from the exile in England and France, and so began a series of political, social and economic innovations along the lines of these European countries. Thus, the idea was conceived of establishing Savings Banks on the English and French model, which would enable workers in the future to support themselves using their own means.

The first Saving Bank to be established in Spain was the Madrid Savings Bank, which opened in 1839 and was the model to establish Savings Banks in Latin America. Since then, the number of Savings Banks in Spain has change along the years. Today, 2008 there are 45.

Different phases may be identified in the history of the Spanish Savings Banks:

1839-1926: The charitable phase


Features of this period:

  • Public calls for the establishment of Savings Banks, which were regarded as charitable organisations
  • Private initiatives for the establishment of Savings Banks
  • A failed attempt to introduce state controls in 1853
  • The investment of Savings Bank funds in collateral-backed loans via pawnshops.

By 1900, 65 Savings Banks had been established. They were private and personal foundations, local corporation and municipal and district councils, agricultural syndicates and some church organisations.

1926-1964: The social phase

Features of this period:

  • The Savings Banks retained their freedom on how to be established and organised but, the government had the right to veto appointments and an obligatory register was set up.
  • Restrictions were introduced on the Savings Banks' profits, 15% of which were retained by the government for social projects
  • A quota was introduced for the obligatory investment of their funds.

1964-2009: The economic/financial phase

Features of this period:

  • 1964 – 1976: Increasing level of state controls over the Savings Banks, relating to the establishment and expansion of branches and to how they invested their funds.
  • 1977 – 1985: Harmonisation of the organisational and administrative systems of Spanish Savings Banks, and recognition of their activities on the part of the banks. In sum freedom of action in business, reduction of quotas of obligatory investments and freedom to open branches out from their origin regions.
  • 1985 – 2009: Liberalisation of Savings Banks investments, transforming them into genuine universal banks, and controls over their administrative bodies, affected via the growing involvement of public institutions.

In 1928, the Spanish Savings Banks Association (CECA) was founded as the representative body of the sector, being also a credit institution with no specific limitation which provides the Savings Banks with products and services within the technological and financial areas.

2010 -        : New Regulation

In order to adapt the Spanish Savings Banks to the new global Financial environment, a new legislation allows to choose among three different models of corporation. These new possibilities permit to the Spanish Savings Banks to reinforce their core capital and to preserve the identity as social institutions, so in 2011 the industry offers 17 corporations from 45 in 2009.


Refs: CECA 2009 , Titos 2001

Useful Links:



Bibliography for the History of the Spanish savings banks

List of articles or free chapters published by FUNCAS

Literature on the History of Pawnshops in Spain

Related Research Papers