The current crisis will bring interesting opportunities in the development of new services, in new forms of relationship between companies and customers and above all, in the possibility of rethinking Public Policies to facilitate the process of economic recovery.
Casa de América invited me to participate in a seminar on the situation of Spanish companies present in Latin America and their perspective on the crisis caused by Covid-19. The participants agreed on two interesting issues: on the one hand, that confinements will introduce deep changes, accelerating trends that were already emerging; and on the other hand, that this unprecedented scenario will bring us interesting opportunities for the development of new services, innovative forms of relationship between companies and customers and above all, the possibility of rethinking Public Policies, which should facilitate the process of economic recovery.
The debate was also attended by David Cierco from the Spanish Administration and María Dolores Ramos, Public Policy Senior Manager of Banco de Santander.
David Cierco, Director General of Red.es, was right to identify SMEs as the ones most affected by the pandemic and the importance of designing mechanisms to strengthen the business fabric. The Spanish Government has launched two well-focused initiatives: “Acelera pyme", which already has more than 65,000 users and pursues a triple objective regarding the acceleration of the digitalisation of SMEs: to advise, support the creation of technological solutions and establish financial support measures; and "Educa en digital", a programme to promote the digital transformation of education in Spain, reducing the gap between students with fewer resources, without connectivity or devices, so that they can access classes remotely. Without a doubt, these are initiatives of great impact, and for me it is noteworthy that the Government intends to coordinate with the European Union and also focus part of the efforts on Latin America.
María Dolores Ramos explained how confinement is encouraging her customers to use, often for the first time, digital access and tools to banking services. And it is remarkable, because this has happened despite the fact that the financial sector has been considered critical and branches have remained open. This has led to a transformation in the way we relate to our customers; now the important thing is to see if, after the crisis, this trend will continue because it may mean a change in our customer relationship strategy.
I wanted to highlight two aspects that I think are fundamental: the digital divide and the need for a new Digital Deal. As for the gaps, I wanted to explain all the work we have ahead of us, there are 100 million people in Latin America who still do not enjoy Internet access and we must become the region's digital partners to cover that huge connectivity gap. But it's not just about connectivity, there are more gaps. The region's SMEs are suffering greatly, with confinements preventing them from carrying out their activity, especially those that have not gone digital. The tools for them to do so are available, and that is why I applaud the fact that the Government has established this issue as a priority and that they have a vocation to help Latin America. There is also a serious and deep digital gap in learning, both in the education of children and in the training of employees. Today's world is digital; countries, companies and societies that do not assimilate it in time will not achieve full development. And finally, there is a huge digital gap in public administrations, in their internal processes and in the relationship between the States and the citizens.
We need a New Deal for post Covid-19 reconstruction, which will have to build a digital and sustainable future. We are talking about a Digital Bill of Rights, with people at the centre of the debate, consisting of a regulatory framework that encourages investment in infrastructure in order to fill in the gaps and which includes a review of the fiscal frameworks and which does not penalise our sector; let us remember that Professor Katz of Columbia University estimates that the tax burden of the telecommunications sector is 50% higher than that of other sectors.
In short, we face the future with optimism, because it is a future that will be digital. And Telefónica will play an important role in that future.