Spain's top banks encourage 'virtual' AGMs as coronavirus precaution

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s largest banks sought to minimise the business effects of the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, with Santander and BBVA both calling on shareholders to participate remotely at their annual general meetings.

FILE PHOTO: Banco Santander's chairwoman Ana Patricia Botin speaks during the annual results presentation at the bank's headquarters in Boadilla del Monte, outside Madrid, Spain January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

Twenty-eight people have died in Spain from the coronavirus, with the number of cases jumping on Monday to 1,204, one of Europe’s highest, but far less than in Italy.

Santander SAN.MC, Spain's largest bank, said that as a precautionary measure it had asked employees in its corporate centres in Madrid to work from home for the next 15 days, while a BBVA BBVA.MC spokesman said it had closed a building in the capital as a result of a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Santander has already transferred 60 employees from its trading floor at its headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid to a different location in the capital, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

BBVA did not specify how many workers would be affected out of around 7,000 at its Madrid headquarters, but said that one of its buildings and surrounding areas, such as cafeterias and restaurants, had been shut as result of a coronavirus case.

The country’s second-largest bank had already transferred up to 100 staff from Madrid to a location just outside the capital as part of its strategy to cope with the outbreak..

Santander’s Executive Chairman Ana Botin said in a statement that the decision to encourage all of its shareholders to participate remotely in the April 3 AGM was “consistent with our goal of protecting the wellbeing of our stakeholders”.

In previous years, more than 2,000 shareholders had attended the AGM in the northern city of Santander, the bank said.

Spanish regulations and the bank’s by-laws and rules already guarantee shareholders the right to participate remotely, and to vote at AGMs without having to attend in person, using online applications already provided, Santander said.

In a separate statement, Santander said it would offer small businesses and self-employed workers pre-approved loans totalling 20 billion euros (£17.44 billion) to help them cope.

BBVA was also planning to go ahead with its shareholder meeting on March 13 in Bilbao and would also promote remote participation by shareholders, a spokesman said.

Shareholder meetings for other Spanish banks, such as Bankia BKIA.MC, Caixabank CABK.MC, Sabadell SABE.MC and Bankinter BKT.MC, were for now also still expected during March and April, the banks said.

Reporting by Jesús Aguado; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Alexander Smith