U.S. banks switch to drive-through, ATMs to guard against coronavirus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Banks across the United States announced plans to close branches this week, switching many to drive-through and ATM operations only, as financial institutions work to keep going despite the coronavirus and widespread closures of schools and businesses.

New York followed California on Friday in announcing tough measures to combat the fast-spreading virus. New York will require all non-essential workers to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close. California has asked nearly 40 million people to stay home.

While businesses like nail salons, tattoo shops and indoor shopping malls must close, banks and related financial institutions are considered essential businesses and exempt from the New York and California closure orders.

Even if big cities were to issue more stringent “shelter in place” orders, bank sources said they expected ATMs and critical services, like trading and bank call lines, to keep operating.

The largest U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) closed about 20% of its branches earlier this week, and most PNC Financial Services Group Inc (PNC.N), Truist Financial Corp (TFC.N), Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB.O) and KeyBank closed branch lobbies and switched to drive-through and ATMs nationwide.

Bank of America (BAC.N) said on Friday it would reduce hours at its branches to 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. local time Monday through Friday, to give it time to conduct “enhanced, daily cleanings.”

PNC, Truist, Fifth Third and KeyBank said customers can still make appointments to see bankers in-person if they call in advance.

JPMorgan Chase said its branch closures would reduce the number of employees exposed to the virus. The remaining 4,000 branches are evenly spread across the country and most are outfitted with drive-through windows and glass that separates tellers from customers.

At closed branches, ATMs will continue to operate if they are located outside the bank branch’s vestibule, such as on the street.

Bank of America said it had hired 1,700 people so far this month as banks face a surge in customer service demand amid coronavirus concerns.

More than 200 people have died in the United States from COVID-19, and more than 12,000 cases have been confirmed as of early Friday, an increase of 3,000 cases over the previous day.

New York has 7,102 confirmed cases, including 4,408 in New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.5 million people.

More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed in California, where 19 people have died.

Click tmsnrt.rs/3dkIMIL for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

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