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Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will temporarily shut 206 locations – more than 20 per cent of its banking centres – to the public in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the bank announced late Monday evening.

The closures will impact “advice centres,” which do not offer over-the-counter cash or banking services to clients, the bank said. CIBC’s other 816 banking centres will remain open to customers, although will operate with reduced hours. None of the bank’s automated teller machines and online, mobile and telephone banking services are affected.

Around 1,200 staff will be impacted by the decision, said Laura Dottori-Attanasio, CIBC’s senior vice-president of personal and business banking. The rationale behind the decision is to create a “reserve” of healthy employees who “can go into work if ever we have some employees be exposed [at open branches],” Ms. Dottori-Attanasio said.

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Some employees will continue working at the centres, communicating with clients over the phone and online. Others will be off work on a temporary basis, although CIBC will continue to pay their full salaries, Ms. Dottori-Attanasio said.

The bank this week sent employees in non-client-facing roles across the bank to work from home, and it has been building out its call centre capacity to handle online questions from customers.

The bank has still not decided on what the modified hours will be for bank branches that will remain open to the public.

“What we have talked about so far internally … could be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, and then we would likely not have extended hours, or we might start to pull back on our weekend service,” Ms. Dottori-Attanasio said.

CIBC also said Monday that it is expanding assistance to customers hit by the economic fallout of new coronavirus, including business owners, and is doubling staffing levels for client inquiries to that effect. Most of Canada’s other large banks have committed to similar initiatives, offering certain clients flexibility on things such as mortgage and loan payments and waiving some fees.

The relief to be offered by CIBC is similar to “when we had the Alberta floods or with the last round of fires,” Ms. Dottori-Attanasio said.

The move by CIBC followed an announcement earlier Monday that Quebec credit union Desjardins Group that it was cutting its physical “points of service” for in-person meetings to 349 from from 872.

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The closures come at challenging moment for CIBC. Last month the bank announced it was cutting nearly 5 per cent of its staff, or 2,000 jobs and reshuffling the senior management team in an attempt to save more than $260-million a year and narrow the gap between weak revenue growth and elevated costs. The sharpest focus will be on the retail arm, which has underperformed after growth in the mortgage portfolio stalled last year.

Contacted by The Globe about the closures, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Finance said: “Canadians can have confidence in their strong and resilient financial system. We have assurance from financial institutions that they will operate responsibly and fairly. We expect them to continue to provide Canadians with a high standard of service throughout these extraordinary times.”

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