As one of the world’s safest and most accessible banking systems, Canada’s financial institutions play a crucial role in the lives of its citizens (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2023). Learning about and appropriately navigating the Canadian banking system allows you to make better personal finance decisions and save money.

Banking in Canada has its roots in the early 19th century. The Bank of Montreal was founded in 1817, and over time, the banking system has evolved to meet the needs of the country’s growing population. Six large banks dominate the system with over 90% market share. These banks are known for their high service levels, technology investments, and stability (they avoided significant issues during the 2007-2008 financial crisis).

Personal finance education is essential for Canadians to achieve life goals such as buying a home, retiring, starting a family, or pursuing higher education. There is a strong link between finances and mental health in Canada. Our goal is to provide you with valuable information and resources so you can live a happier, healthier life. Understanding how Canadian banks work is a great starting point for your future security and stability.

Overview of the Canadian banking system

The Canadian banking system is renowned for its safety and stability. The system comprises various financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, trust companies, and investment banks.

Types of financial institutions in Canada

Canada’s banking system is designed to cater to the diverse needs of its citizens. Whether you are looking for a comprehensive range of services from a large bank or prefer the community focus of a credit union, the Canadian banking system has options to suit your needs.
Financial institutions in Canada
  • Big Six banks: The “Big Six banks” collectively hold nearly $1.73 trillion in assets. These banks include the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Bank of Montreal (BMO), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), and National Bank of Canada (NBC) (WOWA Leads Inc., 2022). Each bank offers various financial products and services, including chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, loans, credit cards, and investment products.
  • Credit unions: Credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives that provide banking services to their members. They are regulated provincially and often serve specific geographical regions, offering specialized services for their market.
  • Caisses Populaires: Like credit unions, caisses populaires are member-owned financial cooperatives primarily operating in Quebec. They provide banking services to their member and are provincially regulated.
  • Online-only banks: Also known as digital banks or “neobanks,” these financial institutions operate online, offering banking services without physical branches. They often provide competitive interest rates and lower fees compared to traditional banks.
  • Trust and loan companies: These provincially-regulated financial institutions offer services such as accepting deposits, managing trusts, and providing loans (International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, (n.d.).

Comparison of financial institutions in Canada

The following table reviews the types of financial institutions presented above. The review focuses on market share, offered services, and regulation.
Type of institutionMarket shareServices offeredRegulation
Big Six banksHighComprehensive range of financial products and servicesFederally regulated
Credit unionsMediumBanking services, often with a regional or community focusProvincially regulated
Caisses PopulairesMediumBanking service, primarily in QuebecProvincially regulated
Online-only banksLowBanking services, often with competitive rates and lower feesVaries (federal or provincial)
Trust and loan companiesLowDeposit-taking, trust management, and loansProvincially regulated

Key Banking Services and Features

Canada’s banking system provides a diverse range of services to its personal and business banking customers.

Savings and chequing accounts

Savings and chequing accounts are the most common bank accounts in Canada. A chequing account is typically used for everyday transactions such as paying bills, making purchases, and receiving paycheques (Toronto-Dominion Bank, n.d.). Savings accounts are intended for storing money and earning interest. Many of Canada’s financial institutions offer account options with different features, including no-fee accounts, high-interest accounts, and accounts tailored to students and seniors.

Credit cards

Most Canadian banks offer various credit cards to suit different needs. These credit cards might include cashback, rewards, travel points, or low interest rates for purchases. Credit cards are essential for managing your finances, building a credit history, and earning rewards on everyday transactions.

Loans and lines of credit

Loans and lines of credit allow you to borrow money for various purposes, such as buying a new vehicle, financing home renovations, or consolidating existing high-interest debt (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023). Loans are typically provided as a lump sum, while lines of credit offer more borrowing flexibility within a predetermined limit. Line of credit interest rates are generally lower than those on credit cards or personal loans.


Mortgages are loans used to purchase a home or property. Canadian banks offer fixed-rate, variable-rate, and adjustable-rate mortgages. Mortgage insurance may be required if you don’t have a down payment of 20% or more of the property’s purchase price. Optional mortgage insurance add-ons might include life, illness, and disability insurance, allowing the mortgage balance to be paid off in case of job loss, injury, critical illness, or death.

Investment products

Canadian banks offer a range of investment products to help their customers build wealth and achieve financial goals. These products include Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC), stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF). Banks also provide registered investment accounts such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP), Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), and First Home Savings Accounts (FHSA). These accounts are generally tax-advantaged, allowing for long-term savings, investment, and wealth creation.


Most Canadian financial institutions offer insurance products to protect their customers and assets. These products may include life insurance, disability insurance, critical illness insurance, and home and auto insurance. Some banks offer mortgage protection insurance that covers mortgage payments or the remaining mortgage balance in case of job loss, injury, critical illness, or death (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023).

Business banking services

Many Canadian banks provide business banking services primarily aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These services include business chequing and savings accounts, credit cards, loans and lines of credit, merchant services (credit card processing), and cash management solutions (Toronto-Dominion Bank, n.d.). These services are designed to help businesses manage their finances, build credit, and grow.

How to Choose the Right Bank and Account

With numerous financial institutions and account options available, you should consider numerous factors to find the best fit for your needs.

Factors to consider

When choosing a bank and account, consider the following factors:


Compare account fees, transaction fees, and other charges associated with each bank and their accounts (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023).

Interest rates

Look for competitive rates on savings accounts and other investment products.

Accessibility and convenience

Consider the availability of physical branches, ATMs, and online and mobile banking features (Canadian Bankers Association, 2023).

Customer support

Your banking experience is important. Research each bank’s reputation for customer service and overall support.

Digital banking features

Evaluate each bank’s online and mobile banking capabilities. These can provide added convenience, functionality, and security.

Tips for comparing banks and accounts

To compare banks effectively, consider the following tips.
User comparison toolsUtilize online comparison tools to rate account features, fees, and interest rates across different banks
Read reviews and testimonialsLook for reviews and testimonials from other customers to gauge each bank’s reputation and customer service quality
Assess your needsDetermine your specific banking needs, such as accounts, services, and features, and compare banks based on these criteria.
By comparing banks and accounts and understanding your specific needs, you can make an informed decision and select the best institution for your finances.

Opening a bank account in Canada

To open a bank account in Canada, you must provide identification and meet specific eligibility requirements (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023. You can open an account in person, online, or by telephone. Banks may also require proof of address and employment, depending on the type of account you are opening. If you are not a Canadian citizen, you may still be able to open an account, though with additional documentation.

Online and Mobile Banking in Canada

Digital banking has become incredibly popular in Canada. Online and mobile banking offers customers the convenience and accessibility to manage their finances anytime and anywhere.


Online and mobile banking provide several advantages, including:
  • 24/7 access to your accounts, allowing you to check balances, view transaction history, and manage your finances.
  • The ability to pay bills, transfer funds, and deposit cheques using your mobile device.
  • Access to budgeting tools and financial planning resources to help you manage your money more effectively.
  • Enhanced security features, including multi-factor authentication and biometric login options.

Security concerns and protecting yourself

Online and mobile banking have clear benefits. But it is essential to be aware of potential security risks and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your financial information.

Some tips for safeguarding your information include the following:
  • Use strong, unique passwords and change them frequently.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication for added security.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi for banking.
  • Keep your devices updated with the latest security patches and apps.
  • Be cautious of phishing attacks, and do not click on suspicious links in emails or text messages.

Popular mobile banking apps and features

Mobile banking apps are popular with Canadians and offer a range of features and services. Some of the top mobile banking apps in Canada include:
  • RBC Mobile: Offers a user-friendly interface, allowing you to deposit cheques, views account, pay bills, and transfer money.
  • Tangerine Mobile Banking: Known for its security features, such as voice banking and Touch and Face ID, as well as a secure live chat feature for customer support.
  • BMO Mobile Banking App: Provides access to various banking services, including cheque deposits, bill payments, and credit card activation.
  • TD Canada: Offers a comprehensive suite of banking services, including account management, bill payments, investment tracking, and stock trading.

Saving and Investing with Canadian banks

Saving and investing with Canadian banks can help you grow your wealth. The following discusses various types of savings, registered, and investment accounts, and strategies for maximizing your savings and investments.
By comparing banks and accounts and understanding your specific needs, you can make an informed decision and select the best institution for your finances.
  • Basic
  • Youth
  • High interest
  • Student
  • Senior
Canadian banks have different savings accounts offering different features, such as interest rates, fees, and accessibility. You must compare these features to find the best account for your needs.

Registered accounts

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) are popular registered accounts in Canada that offer tax advantages to help you save and invest. In the same category are Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs), Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs, subject to eligibility requirements), and First Home Savings Accounts (FHSAs).

RRSPs and RDSPs are designed to help you save for retirement, with contributions resulting in immediate income tax deductions and tax-deferred growth (Scotiabank, 2023). RDSPs also include annual government contributions to compound your account’s savings. RESPs are tax-advantaged and meant to help you save for your child’s or children’s post-secondary education.

TFSAs and FHSAs allow you to shelter taxes on investment returns and make tax-free withdrawals, though FHSAs are only available to first-time homebuyers and capped at $40,000. Choosing between each type of account, or a combination of the accounts, depends on your circumstances, income, financial goals, and tax situation. You should always sit with a professional banker or advisor to determine your options.

Investment options

Canadian banks offer a range of investment options to help you grow your money. These options include the following:
  • Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs): Low-risk investments guaranteeing your principal and a predetermined interest rate over a set period.
  • Mutual funds: Pooled investments that allow you to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other assets, tailored to your risk appetite.
  • Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs): Like mutual funds but traded on stock exchanges like individual stocks.
Each investment type carries different levels of risk and potential returns. You need to take the time to understand the differences between these options and choose those that align with your financial goals and risk tolerance.

Strategies for maximizing your savings and investments

The following are some strategies to get a leg up on your savings and boost your investments (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2022).
Pay off high-interest debtReducing this debt can help you save more and improve your overall financial health
Automate your savingsSet up automatic transfers from your bank account to your savings or investment accounts to ensure consistent savings
Diversify your investmentsSpread your investments across different asset classes to reduce risk and potentially increase returns
Take advantage of registered accountsUtilize RRSPs and TFSAs to enjoy tax advantages and boost your long-term savings and investments
Monitor and adjust your investment portfolioRegularly review your investments and make adjustments as needed to stay aligned with your financial goals and risk tolerance

Managing Debt and Credit in Canada

Managing your debt and credit effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy financial life in Canada. Your credit score and report and how you manage debt are the building blocks towards more favourable credit terms and rates and great financial freedom.

Understanding your credit report and score

Credit scores in Canada range from 300 to 900 points, with 900 being the best possible score. Your score is calculated by two reporting bureaus, Equifax® and TransUnion®. The score is developed using a formula based on your credit report, which summarizes your credit history. Lenders use this score to assess your creditworthiness and determine whether to approve you for loans, credit cards, or other credit products (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023).

It is important to closely monitor your credit report to ensure all information remains accurate. Your credit can be the difference between being approved for a mortgage, a new car loan, or even obtaining a security clearance for government work.

Tips for improving your credit score

To improve your credit score, you should consider the following tips:

  • Pay your bills on time: Your payment history is the most significant factor in your credit score. Always make your payments on time to maintain a positive payment history.
  • Keep your balances low: Use less than 35% of your available credit to maintain a healthy credit utilization ratio.
  • Understand your risk tolerance: Assess your risk profile to ensure your investments align with your comfort level and financial objectives (Thaler, 2015).
  • Increase the length of your credit history: The longer your credit history, the better your score will be. Keep old accounts open and in good standing to demonstrate a long history of responsible credit use.
  • Limit credit inquiries: Too many “hard” inquiries on your credit report can negatively impact your score. Only apply for new credit when necessary.

Strategies for managing debt

Managing your debt involves creating a realistic and sustainable plan. Here are some steps to manage and pay off your debt (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023).
  1. Make a list of debts

    This will help you prioritize your debt by the amount owed or interest rate

  2. Create a budget

    A budget will help you manage your money and allocate money towards debt repayment (update it regularly)

  3. Choose a debt repayment strategy

    Decide on whether you want to focus on the lowest balances first, or high-interest debt

  4. Consider debt consolidation

    Consider combining any high-interest debt into a single loan with a lower interest rate to save money and simplify the repayment process

  5. Seek professional help

    Consider seeking help from a credit counsellor who can help you make a plan to manage your debt and improve your financial situation

Frequently Asked Questions About Canadian Banking

  • What are the main types of financial institutions in Canada?

    The main types of financial institutions in Canada include chartered banks, credit unions, Caisses Populaires, online-only banks, and trust and loan companies.

  • How do I choose the right bank account in Canada?

    To choose the correct bank account, consider fees, interest rates, accessibility and convenience, customer service and support, and online and mobile features.

  • What are some security best practices for online banking?

    Some security best practices for online banking include using strong, unique passwords, enabling multi-factor authentication, avoiding public Wi-Fi for banking transactions, keeping your devices updated, and being cautious of phishing attacks.

  • What are some standard investment options offered by Canadian banks?

    Common investment options offered by Canadian banks include Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs), mutual funds, and Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).

  • What are some strategies for managing credit and debt in Canada?

    Strategies for managing credit and debt in Canada include paying your bills on time, keeping a low balance on your credit cards, increasing the length of your credit history, limiting credit inquiries, and considering debt consolidation.


Managing your debt involves creating a realistic and sustainable plan. Here are some steps to manage and pay off your debt (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 2023).