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There’s an HSBC Canada branch across the street from the building where The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau is located. Working in the bureau, I used to stop into the branch now and then to use the bank machine there. I wasn’t an HSBC client, but the bank was part of an ATM network I had access to a few years back at no cost.

That’s as close as I ever came to dealing with HSBC, but I will still miss the bank’s quietly important role in Canadian banking. Earlier this week, Royal Bank of Canada launched a $13.5-billion offer to buy HSBC Bank Canada.

Our mortgage specialist, Robert McLister, has already detailed how HSBC helped keep the mortgage market competitive. “For six years, HSBC has advertised rates that are commonly 20 basis points or more below the so-called ‘special offer’ rates promoted by big banks,” he wrote. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

HSBC, with just 130 locations in Canada, offers a uniquely global perspective in its client services. On its website, you’ll find mention of savings accounts available in Hong Kong dollars and Renminbi, China’s official currency. There are also savings accounts in U.S. dollars, British pounds and euros.

Like all major banks in Canada, HSBC offered an online brokerage division. I have tracked online brokers for decades and never considered HSBC InvestDirect to be a top choice. But InvesDirect has long been a leader in one respect – offering clients access to global stock markets. Clients have access to 30 domestic and international markets, and can access North American, Hong Kong, French and German markets on a mobile device.

Many brokers offer accounts denominated in Canadian and U.S. dollars. HSBC InvestDirect lets you set up accounts in up to 10 foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, British pounds, Japanese yen, Swiss francs and Australian dollars. Having a foreign currency account can save you money on foreign exchange fees. For example, you can sell a U.S. stock and have the proceeds remain in U.S. dollars instead of paying the cost of a conversion to Canadian currency.

RBC’s purchase of HSBC will be examined by regulators and may not be finalized until late next year. But already we have a reminder of how tough it is for smaller banks to compete with the Big Six. Size matters in Canadian banking. Unfortunately, it’s often the small players that compete the hardest.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list

He’s taking a hard pass on becoming a landlord

A financial planner and blogger on why he has no interest in becoming a landlord. He and his partner are selling their current home before moving into a newly constructed home next year. He’s been asked a few times if they will rent out their current home. “After I stop laughing, I explain why I have no desire to own a rental property.”

Is there a Ginsu in your kitchen?

The story of the Ginsu, the super-cheap, brilliantly marketed kitchen knife that appeared in the 1990s and generated sales in the millions of dollars. We need more affordable indulgences like this.

An introduction to cash stuffing

This retro concept for promoting saving – stuff cash into envelopes labelled for specific purposes like groceries – has caught on with young adults looking for a way to add structure to their finances. Whatever floats your boat.

The myth of eternal happiness in retirement

An article for financial advisers on how some of their clients will lose a sense of purpose when they leave the work force. This quote from a consultant who works with advisers jumps out: “There’s this myth that once I am retired I will be eternally happy, and I think that contributes to many people actually being unhappy.”

Ask Rob

Q: Central bankers seem to aim for 2 per cent inflation. Why do they want any inflation at all? Here is a contentious question: Why should employees get automatic raises that are not merit-based?

A: Too little inflation suggests a slow-growing economy that does not generate enough prosperity. Cost-of-living raises help workers maintain their purchasing power. These days, we can clearly see the downside of people feeling overwhelmed by the rising cost of living. Levels of financial stress are soaring, and this in turns flows into the workplace through reduced productivity and increased absence.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Today’s financial tool

The Savvy New Canadians blog is offering four bi-annual student financial literacy scholarships of $1,000. Here’s what you need to know about applying.

The Money-Free Zone

Some 60s soul amazingness: Someone to Fulfill My Needs by The Moovers.

Watch this

Ever seen the TV commercial about buying your spouse a car as a surprise Christmas gift? Here’s the Saturday Night Live take.

In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

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