By Hans Seidenstuecker and Sinead Cruise
FRANKFURT/LONDON (Reuters) – Two of Germany’s largest banks have temporarily shut hundreds of branches, while Italian lenders have shortened opening hours as they grapple with staff shortages and the spread of coronavirus.
Commerzbank <CBKG.DE> said it will close several hundred of its roughly 1,000 branches in Germany, with the exact number yet to be determined, while HVB said it plans to close 101 of its 337 branches during Monday.
The banks are hoping that increased use of digital banking will limit the disruption caused by restricted branch services, while in Britain, Spain and France, where most banks remain open, there have been calls on customers to go online.
Customers of HVB and Commerzbank will still be able to use ATMs, online services and those branches that remain open. Several German savings banks have already closed or are planning to close branches.
Around 900 larger branches at Italy’s biggest retail bank, Intesa San Paolo <ISP.MI>, out of a total of 3,500, are only opening in the morning while most of its smaller sites are operating three mornings a week.
Intesa, which has closed some 122 of its small branches located nearer large ones, said that starting from on Tuesday customers would need to book an appointment to be able to access one of its branches.
UniCredit, which has around 4,000 branches in Italy, said last week it would keep only a limited number open in each region.
Other Italian banks are following suit, with Banca Monte dei Paschi <BMPS.MI> also opening only in the morning.
British banking trade body UK Finance, which represents more than 250 firms, said continued access to banking services was “critical” and it would work closely with government and regulators to ensure its members could keep serving customers.
“Operational resilience is therefore crucial and the industry is working hard to ensure its systems, human and digital, remain robust and secure,” a spokesman told Reuters.
And in France, the country’s banking federation said that “despite complex operational conditions, all employees in the networks are and will remain fully mobilised to help their clients to get through this exceptional crisis.”
“Banking networks will be open and branches are prepared,” the French federation said in a statement on Sunday.
Britain’s biggest domestic lender, Lloyds <LLOY.L>, said it was waiving fees on missed payments on credit cards, loans and mortgages, giving repayment holidays, allowing emergency access to fixed-term savings accounts and raising online banking deposit limits to help people unable to access local branches.
“We are making some temporary changes over the coming weeks, and will be providing individual support to customers who need extra help,” Vim Maru, group director, Retail, said.
Barclays <BARC.L> also said it was encouraging customers to speak to specialist teams set up to help those facing financial difficulty, and that it would also accept applications for temporary increases in credit card limits during the disruption.
Executives at TSB, owned by Spain’s Banco de Sabadell <SABE.MC>, are having regular calls to discuss and plan for possible changes in the UK’s approach to delaying the spread of coronavirus, a spokesman said.
There was no suggestion of sudden demand for cash from concerned customers or any service issues related to keeping ATMs well-stocked, the spokesman added.
While two branches had been closed due to staff illness, TSB said there were no immediate plans to close others pre-emptively and the bank’s main call center in Bristol was operating as normal, with no surge in calls from customers.
British building society Nationwide <POB_p.L> said it would open more than 100 of its 650 branches an hour early so that elderly and vulnerable customers, concerned about their exposure to coronavirus, could manage their money in a safe environment.
(Reporting by Hans Seidenstuecker in Frankfurt and Sinead Cruise in London; Additional reporting by Patricia Uhlig, Tom Sims, Valentina Za, Maya Nikolaeva, Iain Withers, Lawrence White and Jesus Aguado; Writing by Tom Sims and Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Alexander Smith and Matthew Lewis)