Connecticut's state-chartered banks, thrifts, and credit unions are free to open on state holidays.

That's the word under a new policy adopted by the state Banking Department. The 86 banks and 72 credit unions will not longer be required to shut their doors on the state's 12 legal holidays.

The policy follows Gov. John G. Rowland's repeal of a 1991 proclamation declaring the days as official bank holidays.

The change is part of the state's effort to reduce regulation and make the state more business-friendly.

"Regulators shouldn't tell you when to be opened or closed," said David E.A. Carson, president and chief executive of People's Bank, Bridgeport. "It's customer demand that justifies being open."

But many bankers said they were skeptical of their newfound freedom. They questioned the benefits of the change and said they did not know how much they'll take advantage of it.

"I don't know if people care whether we're open or not," said Gerald M. Noonan, president and chief executive of Connecticut Bankers Association. "They're more interested in whether the mail will be delivered."

Although the new policy would allow banks to serve business customers who work on the holidays, bankers said there may be more drawbacks than advantages.

In particular, they said they may not be able to process checks within 24 hours of receiving them on a legal holiday, because Federal Reserve banks would be closed.

That would mean the banks could have to hold some checks for 48 hours, violating 24-hour check-clearing requirements.

But other states that let banks keep open on holidays have gotten around that issue. For example, Iowa law says the time counted toward the 24-hour requirement is based on the Federal Reserve's schedule, not the bank's.

Besides such operational issues, the bankers said, there are concerns about forcing employees to give up some paid holidays, and about how the public might view banks that stay open during religious observances.

"It's an image issue," said John Carusone, president of the Bank Analysis Center in Hartford. "Some people are going to think it's irreverent to be open on high national or religious holidays."

Many of the state's small institutions are worried that the change gives an advantage to bigger banks, which are better able to staff their branches on extra days.

Finally, there's a lot of uncertainty over whether customers really care if branches are open holidays, since automated teller machines and supermarket branches are available seven days a week.

Before the state's announcement, the state bankers association surveyed members to see what they wanted. Of the 60% that responded, two-thirds indicated that the policy shouldn't be changed, because there were too many potential problems.

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