PHILADELPHIA - Even with the 24/7 account access offered by ATMs and Internet banking, more banks are opening branches on Sundays in what analysts say is an increasingly fierce competition for retail customers.

According to a Newsday report, Citizens Bank will hire more tellers to keep 150 Philadelphia-area branches open seven days a week starting on Sept. 7, up from 50 branches now offering daily hours.

Citizens has been making a major push into the region. The $64.4 billion Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary bought 345 former Mellon bank branches in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey for $2.1 billion in 2001, and raised its profile in June with a $57.5 million deal to name the Phillies' new ball field Citizens Bank Park.

"Serving our customers by opening all of our area branches every day of the week was a natural next step," Stephen D. Steinour, Citizens chief executive, in a news release announcing the expanded hours.

A flurry of bank branch building has led to tougher competition for customers nationally, said Scott Alaniz, a bank analyst for Samco Capital Markets in Dallas. Branches have proliferated as bank profits have risen over the last three or four years, boosted by a mortgage refinancing boom driven by low interest rates, he said.

(See related story Banks on branch bandwagon

"Even though with mergers and acquisitions the number of banks has gone down, the number of branches has increased," American Bankers Association (ABA) spokeswoman Tracey Mills said in the Newsday report. "It's part of an overall trend of banks focusing on retail customers, expanding the number of branches, and branches in convenient locations such as grocery stores."

In the Philadelphia area, Commerce Bank has offered seven-day banking for nearly a decade. Its more than 250 branches in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, northern Delaware and the New York City area are open every day except Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and Easter. Its branches are open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

"Just as Home Depot or Starbucks or Wal-Mart provide services, we provide banking services when it's convenient for our customers, patterning ourselves after the country's must successful retail businesses," said David Flaherty, bank spokesman.

Other Philadelphia area banks, including PNC Bank and Sovereign Bank, offer seven-day banking as well.

Nationally, a recent ABA survey showed that 53 percent of large banks, with $1 billion or more in assets, now offer Sunday hours at their branches in stores, such as supermarkets, and 18 percent offer Sunday hours in freestanding branches.

Among mid-size banks, with $500 million to $999 million in assets, 22 percent offer Sunday hours at in-store branches and 9 percent in freestanding branches. Among community banks, with less than $500 million in assets, 6 percent have Sunday hours at in-store branches and 3 percent at freestanding branches, the ABA survey showed.

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