Accelerator: Finance - Squeeze more from your bank

However else you describe the relationship between your business and your bank, you cannot call it under-researched. Small-business banking was the subject of the Cruickshank Review of 2000, then of recommendations by the Competition Commission inquiry of 2002 - and that followed a referral of the banks by the Office of Fair Trading. The Competition Commission found that major banks were making £2bn a year in profits from small-business banking.

The good news is that competition for small business accounts is rising and the Big Four - NatWest, Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds TSB - are being challenged by new players, led by Alliance & Leicester, Abbey, Bank of Scotland and Bank of Ireland. According to research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the Big Four's slice of the pie is down from 83% in 2000 to 70% now.

The bad news? Banks are not fulfilling promises to the Competition Commission to offer free banking or pay at least 2.5% interest on business current accounts - and to publicise these services. Yet more than two-thirds of small firms are unaware of banks' obligations. IAN WYLIE offers useful tips for managing your relationship manager. HAGGLE FOR FREE BANKING

Some banks are now pushing 18 months' worth or even two years' worth of free banking for business customers. 'Many relationship managers have the autonomy to negotiate and grant concessions like free banking,' says Matt Hardman, campaigns manager at the Forum of Private Business. 'You should seek this particularly if you're a start-up, when you have enough on your plate without worrying about the cost of transactions or your overdraft.'

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