A Money Coach in Canada

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Citizensmall

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).

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

8 Comments

  1. I’m really sorry to hear about the Citizens Bank. It seemed like such a good idea! I’ve done my banking with most of the big five at one point or another over the years and ultimately chose Canada Trust. Then the TD merged with Canada Trust and I truly feel that they’ve done a good job. If you decide to go with one of the big five, I’d recommend the TD Canada Trust. Their online banking system is very good. I rarely go into a branch for service, relying mostly on the online and ATM functions.
    .-= Cyndi in BC´s last blog ..Play For Change video again =-.

    [Reply]

    Aug 22, 2009
  2. That’s terrible news! I was there when it launched! I was part of the team that had developed the first version of VanCity’s online banking systems (from TV Banking, PC banking (Windows 3.1!) to the first version of their internet banking). It was our software that enabled the first branch-less bank in Canada.

    As for alternatives. If PC is presidents choice, then you should know that it’s backed by CIBC (nothing wrong with that, I have CIBC accounts – but I think that I have a good experience because of the people that have been handling my accounts).

    I’ve been thinking about TD/CanadaTrust, if nothing else than for the great branch hours they offer.

    [Reply]

    Aug 22, 2009
  3. When I moved back to Canada after almost 15 years in the UK, I was looking for an ethical bank. Didn’t come across Citizens Bank. But did end up at Alterna Bank, a subsidiary of Alterna Savings (which used to be CS Coop). I’m not sure how national they are. They opened the bank thing so they could serve the Quebec business and since then the credit union arm merged with a big Toronto credit union. But I like them.

    In the UK I banked with (and actually still have an account with) the Cooperative Bank. I LOVE them. They have an ethical policy which account holders get to vote on occasionally. And they seem to be doing well. I can’t really understand why there isn’t more public debate about where banks invest our money here. Maybe the whole fees thing takes over.
    .-= JoVE´s last blog ..What is an impact factor, anyway? =-.

    [Reply]

    Aug 22, 2009
  4. Nola

    I learned about Citizen’s from you about 1 1/2 years ago, when I was just finding the pf blogging world (who knew?) and joined up with my first ever auto-transfers to a savings account. I will miss them, but I am transferring to ING, for the bonus.

    [Reply]

    Aug 22, 2009
  5. oh geez. that’s too bad. i know how important CB was to you …
    .-= isabella mori´s last blog ..blog post #1000: possible dreams =-.

    [Reply]

    Aug 22, 2009
  6. Tax Guy

    Being from the west coast I knew CB very well. I grew up with a Vancity account and they were my financial institution until I moved east.

    In retrospect, CB’s biggest problem was marketing. I would guess that if you wandered the streets of any city in Canada asking if they heard of CB, more than 75% would have never heard of them. In the 8 years I’ve been in Ontario, I’ve only heard their name in passing.

    If you’re going to run a business, any business you have to have a strategy (know how you will serve and what) and then you have to get the word out: radio, TV, digital and print media. If you don’t market your business you’ll never succeed.

    I see CB’s problem as one of marketing!

    [Reply]

    Aug 24, 2009
  7. @Tax Guy – agreed re getting the word out. Part of the issue, I’m sure, is the magnitude required for marketing across the county – spots on TV = Loads of money. The pity is that with internet/viral marketing, right now is precisely when marketing an online bank could have been so very easy and so inexpensive. Timing is everything, and in this case, the timing was off, I guess.

    [Reply]

    Aug 26, 2009

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