Citizens Bank of Canada first caught my eye upon its grand entrance, 12 years ago. Their tv and bus stop ads promised Canadians a different kind of bank – one with an ethical policy, and one committed to the planet and to communities. Plus, it was online. This appealed to me enormously.
I applied for an account straight away, and got rejected: fresh out of university, I didn’t have the credit history they wanted.
Eight years later, I tried again: I wanted to open my business account with them. This time, I had the credit history, but they were ceasing to open business accounts.
As fate would have it, I got into Citizens Bank by the back door. Two years into my money-coaching business, I had stumbled across an advert for a part-time banking position with a credit union. Extended benefits and some side income were a welcome supplement to my business. I applied through the agency, and unbeknownst to me, the job was with CB.
I got the job, and finally I had a bank account where I’d wanted one all these years. As an employee I can only describe myself as falling in love with this decent, underdog bank. My passion was fueled further by the many amazing people who banked with us – people whose green lifestyles were featured in national magazines, world class authors, professionals who devoted part of their year to development work overseas, progressive politicians, and above all, the many, many Canadians who, like me, simply wanted to live a typical Canadian life in the most environmentally and socially sensitive way that they could. I spoke to people in Iqaluit, in St. John’s, in Ottawa, in High Prairie, in Whitehorse, in Regina, (in Quebec to people upset we couldn’t open accounts for them!), in Lethbridge, in Yellowknife — If any of you are reading this – thanks so much for having joined me in the Big, Worthwhile Idea that was Citizens Bank.
Frankly, I’m still baffled that Citizens Bank didn’t gather at least a million members. High interest savings, low or no fee chequing, and the profits went back to the community instead of to shareholders around the world – surely an easy choice.
But it didn’t.
So, I asked if I could try my hand at getting the word out. The CEO, to whom I’m forever indebted for this, gave me six months to go for it, even saying OK to a job title of “Bank Evangelist” – I wasn’t in it to “market” to anyone, just to spread the word!
Just as I was pulling some ideas together, the financial sector went wonky. And our parent company, Vancity (some of whose staff never did “get” Citizens Bank) started to look hard at which of its subsidiaries were successful, and which ones not so much. Last October most of CB’s staff were laid off. Growth and evangelism were out of the question. I left the bank.
The axe finally fell last week. The accounts have been sold to TD Canada Trust (if it had to be to a bank, I’m glad it’s them, at least).
Grieving a bank seems nuts. But I do. I grieve the loss of Citizens Bank in Canada – both for what it was, and what it could have been. For me, Canada is diminished without this progressive little underdog bank. I know Big Worthwhile Ideas come and they go, and I’m glad at least for the four years in which I could feel really good about where I banked. But still.
A heartfelt shoutout to those who were there before me, and there with me, giving CB its best shot – esp. Jody A., Jane H., Kathy O., Madleine R., Lynn S., Lorelei M., Heidi F., Lacey H., Ben & Robin, Dean H …. the list goes on!
And on a pragmatic note – any recommendations on where to move my banking? I’m already with ING for my savings (another long-time fave of mine) and I’m thinking of PC for my online checking. Other ideas? (bearing in mind I’m up in Yellowknife – no credit unions up here).