April 28, 2020 / 6:59 AM / a month ago

Japan banks ask customers to refrain from non-urgent branch visits amid virus

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese banks are asking retail customers to refrain from non-urgent visits as bank branches continue to be busy despite calls for social distancing and a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the banking lobby head said.

Japan does not have a mandatory lockdown, but has declared a state of emergency, urging people to cut person-to-person contacts by 70% to 80% and work from home as much as possible.

While the total visitor numbers of three major banks - Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc (8306.T), Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc (8316.T) and Mizuho Financial Group Inc (8411.T) - declined in April by 10% to 15% each, branches in some residential areas have even seen an uptick.

“Though it’s difficult to define what is urgent or not, we have to make our branches safe place for customers,” Kanetsugu Mike, also the head of MUFG Bank, told reporters at a telephone conference on Tuesday.

A Japanese preference for cash as opposed to digital payment options, especially among its large ranks of elderly, and extra free time while working from home is keeping bank branches busy despite government calls for social distancing.

Some customers have even visited bank branches to exchange commemorative coins and cancel accounts as they have more time partly due to telecommuting, Mike said.

Japan has not seen the explosive outbreak of infections seen in many other countries, but had 13,614 confirmed cases and 394 deaths as of Tuesday, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Reporting by Takashi Umekawa; Editing by Himani Sarkar

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