Nationwide Building Society has become the first UK lender to formally adjust its branch opening hours and close outlets in response to the Coronavirus.
Core hours for most branches will now be 10am until 2pm from Monday to Friday, and 9am until 12pm on Saturday, with increased distancing between employees and members to give greater confidence and safety.
Nationwide, which has around 650 branches, says needed to close around 50 branches due to low staffing. However, around 450 are operating with the core reduced hours, while the remaining branches have individual opening hours due to local variations.
Nationwide recently introduced early opening sessions for older people and those with underlying health conditions. The Society says the service was well-received, but has abandoned the initiative in light of new Government guidelines on social distances.
Face-to-face interviews in branches will also be stopped as staff focus on providing critical counter services only. Those with pre-booked appointments - for example personal banking, mortgages or financial planning - are being contacted separately to arrange alternative ways of communicating, such as telephone or Nationwide Now - a service that enables customers to visit a branch and talk to someone over a high-definition video link.
There will be a two-metre distance rule between staff and customers at all times, while numbers of people in branches will be restricted to ensure rules around space can be controlled as much as possible.
Mandy Beech, Nationwide’s director of branches, says: “As a direct result of the latest government advice around coronavirus, our branches will be operating reduced hours. We remain open and we will try to keep as many of our branches open while we are able to. However, where possible we would ask people, particularly those at higher risk, to use online or mobile banking services and to speak to us if they have any needs or concerns. We thank our members for their patience as we know this is an extremely challenging time for many”.
While others would be expected to follow the Nationwide's move, the Financial Conduct Authority is pushing institutions to remain open for high street business. In a statement, the watchdog says: "In line with the latest UK Government announcement, our current advice to banks and building societies is that they should keep branches and contact centres open, where possible, as they are deemed essential for civil and commercial functions."