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The Financial Services Agency plans to allow banks to shut on weekdays by easing a regulation covering the days they can stay closed.

Since 1890, Japan has limited such days to weekends, national holidays, New Year’s Eve and the first three days of the year. But many branches have seen patronage decline as the population shrinks and online banking spreads.

It has become difficult to maintain branches in many places, particularly those suffering from depopulation.

The easing of the regulation, to be carried out as early as this summer, would give banks greater flexibility in running branches and help reduce operating operation costs, FSA officials said Wednesday.

For instance, a bank would be able to open two nearby branches on alternate weekdays. This would allow the bank to slash operation costs through payroll cuts, making it easier to keep the outlets open.

The regulatory change will basically help out small lenders, and the FSA will also allow banks to run joint outlets more easily.