Blanks fired in the current account battle

Another week, another skirmish in the battle of the banks. This time HSBC held the musket, with a "price promise" aimed at keeping its 7.6 million current account customers loyal and adding to their numbers.

Another week, another skirmish in the battle of the banks. This time HSBC held the musket, with a "price promise" aimed at keeping its 7.6 million current account customers loyal and adding to their numbers.

Buy a branded high-street product (not online, though, or in a sale) and find it cheaper elsewhere within 60 days, and the bank will refund the difference. The minimum you can claim per item is £10 and you can't reclaim more than £5,000 in a year.

Other changes at HSBC include a rejigged Premier current account, which offers free worldwide travel insurance, free overseas cashpoint withdrawals (although a loading fee is still levied), commission-free currency and an ID theft helpline. To qualify, however, customers need substantial sums of money tied up with the bank: either a minimum £75,000 salary and a £100,000 mortgage; a £200,000 home loan; or savings worth £50,000 or more.

Otherwise, people who earn at least £75,000 but have no other financial relationship with HSBC must pay £19.95 a month.

Meanwhile, its new Bank Account Plus current account is also aimed at frequent travellers and offers similar benefits but at a starting cost of £9.95 a month - rising to £12.95 in January. No other relationship with HSBC is required.

Whatever these deals have got going for them, they hardly, as HSBC claims, make "current account history". The bank still pays painfully low rates of between 0.1 and 0.25 per cent on credit balances up to £10,000, while charging between 9.9 per cent (Premier) and 12.8 per cent (Bank Account Plus) on balances in the red.

And all those extra goodies are hardly unique. "You can already get commission-free currency and cheap travel insur- ance elsewhere," says Sue Hannums at independent financial adviser Chase de Vere.

The new launches were announced only a week after the bank cut rates on several of its savings accounts by as much as 0.25 per cent.

Meanwhile, not every HSBC current account customer benefits from the price promise: basic account holders (those on low incomes) don't have debit cards and are excluded.

Anyone looking to switch their current account could consider Alliance & Leicester, Ms Hannums suggests. It pays 4.89 per cent on its Premier Plus account while offering free individual travel insurance.

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