June 17, 2021 12:49
Senior citizens are paying two to six times more than younger people for services like bank transfers, ticket purchases and other areas of daily life if they struggle to use digital devices.
Korea is famous for its technological innovations, ranking eighth out of 63 countries in a digital competitiveness survey last year by the Institute for Management Development. Korea ranks at the top of the world in terms of smartphone usage at 93.1 percent, but elderly people often fall through the net.
Hwang Yong-suk at Konkuk University said, "Every part of our lives has now become digital. If senior citizens are excluded from digital services now they are effectively excluded from society."
Elderly people who are not tech-savvy end up paying higher fees for services at banks and public agencies that charge extra for face-to-face service.
One 73-year-old in northwestern Seoul went to the bank recently to transfer W1 million to a relative whose grandchild celebrated his 100th day after birth (US$1=W1,117). But despite being a loyal customer for more than 30 years, a teller told him to pay a W2,000 fee for the transfer, which is free online, because he did not know how to use the bank's mobile app.
Another 82-year-old Seoul resident said, "I don't know how to access banking services on my smartphone, so I end up paying W2,000 to W3,000 by using bank tellers. I could ask my children, but I don't like to bother them."
The elderly experience the same disadvantages when investing in stocks, being charged more than twice the commission compared to smartphone transactions. Buying W10 million worth of stocks through a brokerage entails a W15,720 fee for mobile transactions but a W49,720 fee offline.
Customers who use apps also get discounts from various promotions, but these benefits are out of reach for many senior citizens.
Even the state is no exception. It costs W1,000 to request a copy of the family register from a counter official at the district office, but at unmanned kiosks it only costs W500 and online it is free.
Kim Bum-joong at Chungang University said, "The paradigm has shifted more rapidly since offline services closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Young people have been able to adapt quickly, but senior citizens can't keep up."
One problem is that the elderly are often suspicious of digital devices and online services. One 70-year-old in central Seoul asked, "How could the same product be sold at a 30-percent discount on the Internet. They must be selling defective products." Another 70-year-old said, "I always go to the bank because I'm afraid of transferring my money to the wrong person on my smartphone."
Koo Jeong-woo at Sungkyunkwan University said, "Elderly people are excluded from social discourse almost as if they are invisible. That's why they often don't even know they are being discriminated against when it comes to digital services."
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