Bridgeport-based People’s Bank has made its expansion plans official with the announcement that it will follow Waterbury-based competitor Webster Bank’s lead and open at least 15 branches in New York’s Westchester County over the next three years.

“I think that expansion into New York represents the fact that [People’s] has run out of market in the Nutmeg State,” said John Carusone, president of the Hartford-based Bank Analysis Center.

The expansion will allow the bank to deploy capital in a nearby, attractive banking market. It will not be much of a stretch, as the economy and demographics of Westchester County are similar to those of Fairfield County, Carusone said.

The bank’s holding company, People’s Mutual Holdings, last week filed an application with the state Department of Banking to convert from a state-chartered mutual holding company and savings bank to a federally chartered mutual holding company and a federal savings bank charter. A federal charter will allow People’s to “more competitively pursue business expansion across state lines as it permits the bank to open new branches and expand its businesses in all states on the same terms as any federally chartered bank,” according to a release from the bank.

“We believe a federal charter is an important component of People’s continued growth and independence,” said John A. Klein, chairman and chief executive officer of People’s, in a prepared statement. “Connecticut is, and will remain, our home. As a federally chartered institution, however, the bank’s ability to open new branches, make acquisitions and expand existing businesses in other states will be less complicated, less costly and much faster,” he said. “Our plans to grow our geographic footprint, coupled with our experience in expanding our residential mortgage lending in New York and Massachusetts last year, convinced us that the federal charter is the right course for us to take to facilitate our continued growth.”

Last summer, People’s opened a loan production office in Burlington, Mass.

A ‘Stronger’ Position

The only change to the bank’s operations with a change in charter would be that it ends up being regulated by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision rather than the state Department of Banking, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Federal Reserve. The Office of Thrift Supervision regulates more than 80 mutual holding companies and is the principal regulator of the majority of mutual holding companies across the country.

“We made the decision to change to the FSB charter because it is the only federal charter that allows us to both continue under the MHC structure and significantly enhance our ability to expand out of state,” Klein said in a prepared statement. “While we have benefited from an excellent working relationship with all of our regulators – in particular the state Department of Banking – and from the powers conferred on state-chartered banks by the Connecticut General Assembly, the FSB charter gives us the flexibility to export our People’s Bank model across state lines much more easily.

“The decision to switch to a new charter serves to put a currently strong bank in an even stronger competitive position, which we believe will benefit both our commercial and consumer customers. People’s remains completely committed to our customers, employees and communities as Connecticut’s largest independent bank in terms of market value.”

People’s has $11 billion in assets and 154 branches, 71 of which are located in Super Stop & Shops and are open seven days a week.