The Covid-19 pandemic is thrusting Japanese banks deeper into the digital age with the revamping of branch outlets and the planned disappearance of bank tellers.

Bank branches in Tokyo and around Japan are beginning to take on a newfangled look, focusing more on consultation, rather than traditional transactions.

This week, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., one of the nation’s three megabanks, unveiled a new branch that has basically eliminated cash transaction services by bank tellers.

“Our employees in principle won’t handle cash, so they can use more time to provide consultation services for customers,” said Jun Izumi, general manager of the bank’s channel strategy department, which oversees local branch strategies.

Here’s your QR code

The newest of such outlets in Yamato City, an hour south-west of Tokyo.

The branch still has a counter for bank tellers, but after accepting transaction requests staff members are only able to hand out QR codes to customers.

Customers can then scan the code at an ATM to withdraw or deposit cash.

Sumitomo Mitsui says it plans to end cash exchange services by tellers at 300 branches, or about 70% of its domestic outlets, by the end of fiscal 2022.

It says bank staffers will be on hand to assist Japan’s horde of senior citizens that might be unfamiliar with QR codes.

The bank is also hoping to reduce staff at outlets by making the operation more efficient.

“We are trying to form a system that will be able to meet customers’ needs with a smaller number of people,” Izumi said.

Email notification in stead of physical queues

To reduce infection risks and prevent the branch from getting crowded, customers don’t have to sit around and wait thanks to an email notification service that tells them when it’s their turn.

Izumi said Sumitomo Mitsui had been considering a revamp of its outlets for some time, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced it to speed things up.

Another megabank, Mizuho Bank Ltd., also rolled out a new type of branch in Kawasaki earlier this month that’s more focused on consultation services.

The renovated outlet in Musashi Kosugi, 40 minutes south of Tokyo, has doubled the space and boosted the number of employees available for consultation services by nearly 30%.

While its employees still handle cash transactions, the bank has set up 14 tablet computers for customers to request procedures, including opening an account and transferring money, instead of requiring them to fill in paper forms.

The bank said it expects to slash the amount of paper used at the branch by about half.