The day that was meant to honor an Italian-born explorer's discovery of America may have lost its political correctness, but it has retained its status as an official bank holiday.
Even so, some bankers are making a discovery of their own: Staying open on Columbus Day and on other "second-tier" holidays such as Veterans Day and Presidents Day has its rewards.
"We tout ourselves as America's most convenient bank," said John Cunningham, senior vice president and director of marketing at Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bancorp., which is keeping all its 70 offices open today.
"We realize it's a busy day for folks who are off who need access to their funds, so we're going to stay open for them," Mr. Cunningham said. "It's a big shopping day."
This is an example of how bankers are increasingly thinking like retailers. Perhaps they are also listening to their own messages, heretofore applied mainly to electronic banking services, about "anytime, anywhere" convenience.
"Staying open on Columbus Day is consistent with bankers' viewing themselves as running something more akin to retail stores," said Les Dinkin, managing principal of NBW Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. "They need to be there when their customers are there. Consumers are getting used to having their banking needs taken care of outside the traditional 9 a.m. to 3 p.m."
Banks tend to take their cues from the Federal Reserve System, which closes Columbus Day and the other standard federal holidays. "They put out their memo in June and we simply follow the Federal Reserve's lead," said Keith Karpe, a spokesman for Sanwa Bank California, which is closed for Columbus Day.
But more and more are viewing the Fed guideline as outmoded. "Things now are so competitive," said Virginia McGuire, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. "It wouldn't surprise me that some of the banks are choosing to stay open on some of the second-tier holidays."
Some banks forge a compromise between custom and customer convenience by keeping traditional branches closed but supermarket facilities open. Only First Chicago NBD Corp.'s 45 in-store branches in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana are open on Columbus Day.
"We used to keep our branches open on Columbus Day, Presidents Day, and Veterans Day," said First Chicago spokesman Thomas Kelly. "Two years ago we stopped because so many of our customers assumed the bank was closed" and traffic was meager.
"We thought it was a point of distinction but it didn't click with our customers," Mr. Kelly said. "The radio and TV people would say banks are all closed today," and that was that.
It is a different story in the supermarkets. "We find that there is a really different environment in a supermarket on Columbus Day than in a traditional branch," he said.
Mellon Bank Corp. also keeps its supermarket branches open on Columbus Day-all 90 of them. Of the Pittsburgh-based company's traditional branches, only those in Delaware are staying open, in keeping with a quirk in that state's regulations, according to Mellon spokesman Ron Gruendl.
Chase Manhattan Corp., the largest bank holding company, said all its banks' 625 branches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas are closed.
"If we saw compelling business reasons to stay open, we would," said Chase spokesman Kenneth Herz. But "we have very flexible hours. We're open at night and even some Sundays." And of course the telephone call centers never close.