When HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver announced earlier this year that the company would abandon its push to bring six million account holders into its Premier banking service, it appeared to confirm what some observers of the banking industry have long believed: trying to provide specialized financial services to the mass affluent through bank branches is a mug's game.

HSBC officials cited the high costs of the program, which had been scheduled for aggressive expansion through 2012, as a reason for shutting down the push for new customers two years and more than 1.5 million accounts shy of its original goal.

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