Canada has one of the safest banking systems in the world.
As of 2019, the Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Bank of Montreal, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce all ranked within the top-35 most stable banks in the world.
I often get questions about what the best bank in Canada for newcomers, students, seniors or for online banking is?
The short answer is that your choice of a bank depends on your financial needs and preferences. And, in many cases, you can also be well served through a credit union.
This post covers Canada’s largest banks, a list of the best online banks, what they offer, and how to choose the best bank for you.
The Biggest Banks in Canada
The five largest banks in Canada all date back to the 19th century and have branches and ATMs across the country.
They offer a full-suite of financial services including chequing account, savings, investments, brokerage services, mutual funds, insurance, business banking, mortgage loans, and more.
Here’s a list of the Big Five banks:
- TD Bank
Other Schedule I banks in Canada with significant asset sizes and market capitalization include the National Bank of Canada, Laurentian Bank of Canada, and the Canadian Western Bank.
^ Market Capitalization as of September 17, 2020.
Operating under the legal name of Bank of Nova Scotia, Scotiabank is the third largest bank in Canada based on asset size and market capitalization.
Its personal banking channel offers various chequing, savings and credit card options.
Scotiabank Chequing Accounts
Scotiabank offers 5 chequing accounts that are designed to cater to different needs.
Its most basic chequing account offers 12 free transactions every month. On the other end of the spectrum, you can opt for Scotiabank’s Ultimate Package chequing account and enjoy premium perks including:
- Unlimited transactions (debits and Interac e-transfers)
- Up to $139 fee waivers on a credit card
- Unlimited free Global withdrawals (non-scotiabank ATMs)
- Extra 0.10% on a MomentumPLUS Saving Account
- Free personalised cheques and drafts
- Free stocks trading on Scotia ITRADE, and several more
All Scotia Chequing Accounts offer rewards points on everyday purchases in the form of SCENE or Scotia Rewards. You can redeem your points for free movies, food, travel and gift cards.
Scotiabank Savings Account
Scotiabank has 5 savings accounts you can choose from including the:
- MomentumPLUS Savings Account
- Savings Accelerator Account
- Money Master Savings Account
- Scotia U.S. Dollar Daily Interest Account
- Scotia Euro Daily Interest Account
The MomentumPLUS Savings Account is Scotiabank’s high interest savings account and offers a base rate of 0.05%.
Depending on how long you keep the funds untouched and whether you pair it with a premium chequing account, you can earn up to 1.25% on your savings.
Get more details about Scotiabank’s savings accounts here.
Scotiabank Credit Card
Scotiabank has a long list of Visa, Mastercard, and American Express credit cards, including some of the best credit cards in Canada.
One of their credit cards worth noting here is the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite.
This premium card waves the FX markup on foreign currency purchases, offers a complimentary Priority Pass membership (includes 6 free visits), and complimentary travel insurance.
Learn more about the card here.
2. Royal Bank of Canada
The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is the largest bank in Canada.
RBC sponsors many cultural and sporting events including The Canadian Open, one of the oldest golf tournaments in the world.
RBC Chequing Accounts
RBC offers 4 main chequing accounts:
- RBC Day to Day Banking
- RBC No Limit Banking
- RBC Signature No Limit Banking
- RBC VIP Banking
Its most basic chequing account offers 12 free transactions per month. Its Premium VIP option comes with unlimited debits, Interac e-transfer, free drafts, discounts on safe deposit box rentals, and up to $120 fee rebate on select credit cards.
All RBC chequing accounts offer a saving of 3 cents per litre of gas purchased at Petro-Canada. You can also earn 20% more Petro-Points when you link your RBC debit card.
RBC Savings Accounts
RBC has 4 savings accounts you can choose from, including the:
- RBC High Interest eSavings
- RBC Enhanced Savings
- RBC Day to Day Savings
- RBC U.S. High Interest eSavings
Both the CAD and USD RBC high-interest savings account currently offer a 0.05% interest rate.
You can turn on the NOMI Find & Save feature to automate transfers and increase your savings rate.
RBC Credit Cards
RBC offers credit cards in various categories including cash back, travel, low-interest, and no-annual fees.
Here’s a review of the best RBC student credit cards.
If you are looking for a robo-advisor service from a big bank, check out this RBC Investease review.
3. Bank of Montreal
Bank of Montreal is the fourth largest bank in Canada and the oldest, having been founded in 1817.
BMO Chequing Accounts
BMO has 5 chequing accounts ranging from an entry level “Practical” account to a “Premium” chequing account.
The five accounts are:
- Premium chequing Account
- Performance chequing account
- Plus chequing account
- AIR MILES chequing account
- Practical chequing account
BMO Premium chequing offers unlimited transactions, free non-BMO ATM withdrawals, a $150 annual fee rebate on the BMO World Elite Mastercard and free identity theft protection.
Similar to the other big banks, Newcomers to Canada can save on fees for a period when they open an account through BMO’s NewStart Program.
BMO Savings Accounts
For your savings needs, BMO offers 4 savings accounts including:
- BMO Smart Saver
- BMO Savings Builder
- BMO Premium Rate Savings
- BMO U.S. Dollar Premium Rate
The Savings Builder is their high-interest savings account and offers a 0.05% bank rate plus 0.45% bonus interest when you increase your balance by at least $200 each month.
BMO Credit Cards
BMO has a credit card fitting to most of the categories you can think of, including cash back rewards, AIR Miles, travel, low-interest and no-fee cards.
Here are the best BMO credit cards for 2020.
The BMO Cash Back Mastercard is one of the top credit cards for students and newcomers to Canada.
BMO was the first Big Five banks to offer a digital investment service. You can learn more about BMO Smartfolio here.
4. Toronto-Dominion Bank
TD is the second largest bank in Canada by market capitalization.
TD Bank also has a significant presence in the United States, making it one of the largest banks in North America.
TD Chequing Accounts
TD has 6 chequing accounts, including two that are specific for students and youths. The accounts are:
- TD All-Inclusive Banking Plan
- TD Every Day Chequing Account
- TD Unlimited Chequing Account
- TD Minimum Chequing Account
- TD Student Chequing Account
- TD Youth Account
Its All-Inclusive Banking is the most expensive and offers unlimited transactions, free non-TD ATM withdrawal, certified cheques, money orders, personalised cheques, and up to $120 fee rebate on eligible TD credit cards.
TD Savings Accounts
The bank has 3 savings account packages including:
- TD ePremium Savings
- TD Every Day Savings
- TD High Interest Savings account
The interest rates on these accounts range from 0.01% to 0.10%. TD’s youth bank account also pays a 0.01% interest rate on your balance.
TD Credit Cards
TD has credit cards offering cash back, Aeroplan Miles, low-rates, no-annual fee, and TD travel rewards.
Some of the ones we have reviewed are:
5. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
CIBC is one of the biggest banks in Canada. It also operates in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
CIBC Chequing Accounts
CIBC offers three main chequing accounts: CIBC Smart, Smart Plus, and Everyday chequing accounts.
The Everyday Chequing is its entry-level account and offers 12 free transactions per month.
The CIBC Smart Account is flexible and costs $4.95 to $14.95 depending on how many transaction you make during the month.
Lastly, the CIBC Smart Plus Account offers unlimited transactions, free non-CIBC ATM withdrawals, fee rebates on select credit cards, and more.
Here are more details about CIBC’s Chequing Account.
CIBC Savings Accounts
CIBC has 4 savings accounts including:
- CIBC Bonus Savings Account
- CIBC eAdvantage Savings Account
- CIBC Premium Growth Account
- CIBC US$ Personal Account
The eAdvantage savings account has CIBC’s highest interest rate at 0.05%.
CIBC Credit Cards
CIBC has 21 Visa credit cards you can choose from, including the popular CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite.
You can also check out the AC Conversion Visa prepaid if you are looking to save on currency exchange fees.
6. National Bank of Canada
National Bank is the sixth largest bank in Canada (Big Six) and has its headquarters in Montreal.
National Bank Chequing Accounts
National Bank has 4 chequing accounts including:
- The Minimalist
- The Modest
- The Connected, and
- The Total account packages
The total chequing account offers unlimited transactions, free cheques (100/year), overdraft protection, up to $150 fee rebate for a National Bank Mastercard credit card, and an integrated line of credit.
The entry level Minimalist package offers only 12 free transactions per month.
National Bank Savings Account
It offers a high interest Savings account with 0.05% interest.
For registered accounts, it also has a Cash Advantage Solution account offering 0.05%. This account is available as a TFSA, RRSP, or RRIF plan.
Benefits of Banking With the Big Banks
The biggest banks in Canada have their pros and cons. Here are some of the advantages of banking with them:
Branch Coverage: With thousand of Branch locations, you enjoy easy access to in-person support in all areas of the country.
ATM Coverage: The big banks have thousands of free ATMs across Canada which means you can avoid paying fees that accrue when you use out-of-network ATMs owned by other banks.
One-Stop Banking: You can easily open accounts to suit your varying financial needs with one bank instead of spreading them around. For example, you can open your chequing, savings, mortgage, investment, personal loan, and insurance accounts with the same bank.
Technology and Innovation: Big banks have a hefty budget dedicated to improving users experience and interface designs, and they pioneer technology that give them an edge against their competitors.
International Reach: If you travel abroad frequently, a big bank with operations internationally can save you money through free ATMs or branch location at your destinations.
Stability: A bank that has been around for 150 years is unlikely to disappear overnight. Infact, some of the biggest banks are classified as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFI) or “too big to fail”.
These banks face extra scrutiny from regulators, providing an extra layer of security for their customers.
Related: Best Banks for Seniors in Canada
Downsides of Banking With a Big Bank
In exchange for convenience and perceived stability, here are some of the cons of a big bank:
Higher Fees: Big banks charge you a fee for everything. If the fee is not obvious, check the small print.
Poor rates: From extremely low savings interest rates to high mortgage and personal loan rates, a big bank is hardly the place to find the most competitive rate possible. There’s also limited room to negotiate better rates.
Less Personalized Service: Unless you have a huge bank balance, you shouldn’t expect top-level customer service. Community-based and financial institutions such as credit unions are better in this regard.
Watch out for Shady Practices: It’s no secret that many big banks have been mired in controversies in recent times from misleading tactics in selling credit card insurance, to pushing expensive add-ons people don’t need. Your banking could get a lot more expensive than you planned for.
Related: Best Business Credit Cards in Canada
Top Online Banks in Canada
While the Big five banks typically get most of the attention, several digital banks continue to gain traction as more people become comfortable with online banking.
These branchless virtual banks are best known for providing free chequing accounts and some of the best savings rates available.
All of the four mentioned below are also wholly-owned by Schedule I banks:
- Tangerine Bank
- Simplii Financial
- EQ Bank
- Motive Financial
1. Tangerine Bank
Tangerine Bank is the direct banking arm of Scotiabank. It was formerly known as ING Direct Canada.
Apart from a few kiosks and cafes in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, Tangerine is a full-fledged online bank.
Tangerine Chequing Account
The Tangerine No-Fee Chequing account offers all the basic necessities including:
- $0 monthly account fee
- Unlimited free debits, Interac, e-Transfer transactions, and Tangerine email money transfers
- Free access to 3,500 Scotiabank ATMs in Canada and 44,000 worldwide
- Interest up to 0.15% on your balance
- Mobile cheque deposits
Your first cheque book order (includes 50 cheques) is free.
Tangerine Savings Account
Tangerine’s Savings Account is available under 6 different plans: high-interest savings (general), RRSP, TFSA, US$ savings, RRIF, and a children’s account.
Compared to the 0.05% rate that is common nowadays, you earn 2.50% for 5 months and 0.15% thereafter when you sign up here.
Tangerine Credit Cards
Two of the best cash back credit cards in Canada are offered by Tangerine.
Tangerine Money-Back Card: Earn up to 2% cash back on your purchases while paying $0 in annual fees. Card holders get an unlimited 2% back up to 3 categories of spending and 0.50% on everything else.
Tangerine World Mastercard: This card has a similar cash back offer plus some premium perks including:
- Rental car insurance
- Mobile device insurance
- Complimentary Mastercard Airport Experiences membership
- Free Wi-Fi at 1 million+ hotspots around the world
2. EQ Bank
EQ Bank is a Subsidiary or Equitable Bank.
It offers high-interest savings and Guaranteed Investment Certificate Investments through its website and innovative mobile app.
EQ Bank Savings Account
The EQ Bank-Savings Plus Account offers one of the best non-promotional rates in Canada.
It also functions like a hybrid account with features including:
- Unlimited bill payments and electronic fund transfers
- Unlimited Interac e-Transfer®
- No monthly banking fees
- Free mobile cheque deposits
- No minimum balance
This account currently pays a 1.70%* interest on every dollar in your account. You can sign up for it here.
EQ Bank GICs
It offers GICs with term ranging from 3 months to 5 years. The minimum amount you can invest in an EQ Bank GIC is $100.
EQ Bank also offers joint accounts and you can send cheap international money transfer directly from your account using TransferWise.
3. Simplii Financial
Simplii Financial is the direct banking arm of CIBC.
It used to be known as President’s Choice Financial when it was under the banner of both Loblaws and CIBC, until 2017.
Simplii Chequing Account
Simplii Financial’s No-Fee Chequing Account has no monthly account fees and offers:
- Unlimited debits and bill payments
- Free access to more than 3,400 CIBC ATMs
- Interest on your balance up to 0.15%
It also has a global money transfer service that gives you a $50 bonus when you send your first eligible transfer.
Simplii Savings Account
This savings account pays 0.20% interest and has no monthly fees.
In addition to saving and chequing accounts, Simplii Financial has investment funds and GICS you can put inside non-registered and registered accounts.
Simplii Credit Card
Simplii has one credit card – the Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa. This credit card is great for gas, groceries and restaurant purchases.
It features include 4% cash back on restaurant and bars, 1.5% on gas, groceries and drugstore purchases, and 0.50% on all other purchases.
4. Motive Financial
Motive Financial is a division of the Canadian Western Bank, a Schedule I bank based in Edmonton. It offers chequing high interest savings and GICs.
Motive Financial Chequing Accounts
Motive has two chequing accounts. The Motive Cha-Ching Chequing Account offers:
- No monthly account Fee
- Unlimited free transactions and Interac e-Transfer
- Interest on your balance (0.25%)
- Access to thousands of ding-free ATMs
The Motive Chequing also offers unlimited free transactions, however, it does not appear to be available to new clients.
Motive Savings Accounts
Motive has two savings accounts: Motive Savings and Motive Savvy Savings. The Motive Savvy Savings account offers a 1.75% interest rate.
Its features include:
- No minimum balance
- 2 free transactions per month
For Motive Savings, you earn 1.25% on balances of up to $5million and 0.50% on amounts over this limit.
Motive customers can also access GICs for TFSA, RRSP and other investment accounts.
Types of Banks in Canada
There are three broad categories for banks operating in Canada as per the Bank Act.
Schedule I: These are domestic banks that are not subsidiaries of a foreign bank. They are authorized to accept deposits and may be eligible for deposit insurance through CDIC.
Examples include RBC, TD, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank, Tangerine, National Bank of Canada, Equitable Bank, etc.
Schedule II: These banks are subsidiaries of eligible foreign banks and are also authorized to accept deposits. Examples include HSBC Bank Canada, ICICI Bank Canada, Citibank Canada, and Bank of China (Canada).
Schedule III: This category includes branches of foreign banks that operate in Canada and are authorized under the Bank Act to carry on banking business in Canada. Examples include Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Deutsche Bank AG, Citibank N.A., and BNP Paribas.
Schedule III banks operate under some restrictions. For example, they are generally limited from accepting deposits of less than $150,000.
How To Choose The Best Bank For You
While we have covered some of the best bank options in Canada, the best bank for you boils down to your specific needs.
Here are some of the factors you should consider:
1. Fees: How much are you willing to pay for your money to sit in a bank account? For convenience? Are you maximizing the features of the account?
If you do most of your banking online, a no-fee chequing account may be all you need. If you need to visit a branch every now and then or want premium perks, it may make sense to keep the minimum balance in order to waive the account fee at your bank.
2. ATM and Branch Network: Find out whether the account offers access to free ATMs at convenient locations. You don’t want to skimp on the monthly fees only to pay it back in transaction costs.
3. Safety: All the banks listed here are members of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC). This means your deposit accounts are protected up to $100,000 per category.
4. Interest Rates: How much is the bank paying you to save money? Compared to a big bank savings account, you could potentially earn 10-30 x more in interest on your savings when you choose an online bank.
5. Perks: Depending on your needs, a package offering free cheques, drafts, safe deposit box rental, credit card fee rebates, loyalty rewards, etc., may influence your choice.
6. Promotion: Banks often advertise juicy offers in order to attract new customers. While these sign-up bonuses are short-term, they may be worth your time.
Here are the bank promotions available in Canada.
Compare the Best Banks in Canada
Best Banks FAQs
The best bank for you depends on your financial needs, including the number of transactions you typically conduct every month, your location, need for in-person assistance, and whether you have a need for premium perks.
The biggest bank in Canada right now is the Royal Bank of Canada. It surpasses the others by asset size and market capitalization. The second biggest bank based on these same metrics is Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank).
The top-five biggest banks in Canada are RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO, and CIBC.
If you are looking for a no-fee bank, your best bet is to choose an online bank. Online banks have their pros and cons. You pay minimal fees for dau-to-day banking transactions, however, most transactions can only be conducted online as they lack branches.
What’s your experience with banks in Canada? Let us know in the comments.