May 11, 2020 / 4:12 PM / 22 days ago

Spanish banks reopen branches with staff gradually returning to work

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish banks such as BBVA (BBVA.MC) and Santander (SAN.MC) are reopening branches and letting staff return to work, although employees at their headquarters will still mainly work remotely as the country starts to ease lockdown measures.

FILE PHOTO - The headquarters of the Spanish bank BBVA are seen in Madrid, Spain, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Medina - RC136EB41330

BBVA, one of the first banks in Spain to move staff out of Madrid to protect against the coronavirus outbreak, on Monday said about 200 employees at its corporate centre in critical functions would return to their offices this week.

“They include a part of the global markets team in the trading room of CIB (Corporate and Investment Banking) and infrastructure/operational employees in the engineering area, among others,” it said in a statement.

However, BBVA said 98% of BBVA’s HQ employees in Spain - around 7,000 people - would continue working remotely.

At Santander, the euro zone’s second-biggest lender in terms of market value, almost all its workforce at the corporate centres in Spain - more than 10,000 people - are still working from home, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

“The safety of our employees and customers is our utmost priority and we continue to work with the authorities to ensure that any return to work is done safely,” a spokesman for Santander said.

“While the majority of our employees will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, to ensure continuity in the business and support customer services we are implementing measures that will allow a group of employees to gradually return to corporate centre offices in the coming days.”

Spain has so far reported nearly 27,000 deaths, one of the highest fatality rates in the world, with about half of Spain’s 47 million people progressing to the so-called Phase 1 of a four-step plan to relax the lockdowns on Monday.

BBVA reopened 250 branches in Spain between this and last week and by the end of this week, 3,300 employees from the branch network in Spain will be working onsite, 21% of the total workforce.

The bank has drafted a return-to-work plan based on five principles, focused on safety for all employees returning gradually to their normal workplaces.

“The only employees to return to work will be those who have not tested positive, are symptom-free, and are neither in quarantine nor part of a high-risk group,” it said.

BBVA also said it would follow an approach that included serology testing and PCR virus detection.

Santander reopened 189 offices on Monday and so far 1,900 have opened, around 60% of its total branches in Spain, the Santander spokesman said.

State-owned Bankia (BKIA.MC) also aims to gradually increase the number of employees currently working at branches to 60% of its total workforce over the next weeks, a spokeswoman said. She expected around a third of the current 1,900 employees at its headquarters in Madrid to return to work in about four weeks.

“The de-escalation at the HQ starts on May 18 but with employees having to sit 2 metres apart from each other, this allows us to reach a third of our regular workforce there.”

Caixabank, the country’s third-largest lender, which has opened 95% of its network, expects by the end of May to have 75% of its staff working in branches compared to currently 60%. Working remotely will remain the preferred option at its HQ, it said.

On Monday, Sabadell (SABE.MC), the fifth biggest bank by assets, reopened 146 branches bringing the total to 1,441, with around 65% of the lender’s staff working from home, it said.

Reporting By Jesús Aguado; Editing by Angus MacSwan/David Evans/Jane Merriman

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