A Money Coach in Canada

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OK, I really want to know:

1.  Do you think most people really do hate banks? Or do we just lash out from time to time?   Do credit unions have a better reputation, or are they the same as banks?

2.  Is it possible that a bank could be more than just a financial-transactions-kinda place for you? (eg. you get get your haircut, or, you can have this fabulous aesthetic experience.  Could a bank do the fabulous experience?)

3.  What do you love most about your bank, and what drives you nuts?

Readers:  Have at it!

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


  1. I currently have various accounts with three banks in Canada: Scotiabank, PC Financial, and TD.

    Scotiabank. Love their online experience. I grew up with it so maybe I’m biased :). Hate their fees.

    PC Financial. Love the no-fee accounts and decent interest rates. Hate manually downloading my transactions to Quicken.

    TD: Love the E-Series low cost index funds. Hated actually opening the account: The CSR didn’t know what he was doing, the process was convoluted, and even now logging into my account doesn’t seem straightforward.


    Sep 26, 2008
  2. Andrew


    Some just have a bigger ATM network. The Exchange/BMO which you get at HSBC is a fair bit bigger than the Exchange alone. Some also offer unlimited Interac on a high interest account which is nice.

    Citizens Bank (although I don’t like interest rate cut on Ultimate Savings one bit) – Global chequing account beats the pants out of anyone else esp on the free international / no interac surcharge front.

    Credit Unions:

    I’m not sure if I should count Citizens down here, after all, it’s owned by Vancity.

    Generally a bit fresher on the technology front, better ATM’s and on the whole, less crazy on the fee front.

    Service itself really depends on the branch. I’ve had banks with awful service and credit unions with awful service. It really depends on the branch.


    Sep 26, 2008
  3. Lana Gilbertson

    Hi Nancy,
    After a series of recent bank errors that left my partner and I feeling nervous (and shopping around for a new bank), our bank apologized in writing, gave us some very nice perks, and underlined that our business mattered to them.

    For me that’s the key to any relationship: say you’re sorry when you’ve messed up and let me know that I’m important to you.


    Sep 26, 2008
  4. Lana Gilbertson

    I guess I have more to say…….

    I think what turns a regular “haircut” an “aesthetic experience” is warm and attentive customer service, appreciation of the client and contact that is regular enough (depending on the circumstances) for a real relationship (and with it, loyalty) to grow.

    I think the challenge for “big banks” is how to build meaningful relationships with clients. The reality of banking these days is automation and disconnection. It’s a good question.


    Sep 26, 2008
  5. brad

    Fees, fees, fees, that’s what I hate. I live in Québec, and we can’t get PC Financial or any of the other no-fee unlimited packages that don’t require a high minimum balance. I lived in the US for the first 40 years of my life, and every bank there offers unlimited free chequing and ATM. Why can’t they do this in Canada? I pay $11/month for my bank account, and with the piddly interest rate I earn I’d have to keep tens of thousands of dollars in there just to cover my monthly fees.


    Sep 27, 2008
  6. sundae1888

    I started banking with a child savings account at Canada Trust, but I had no recollection of the experience because I didn’t get to keep the passbook.

    In early 90’s, I opened my own student bank account at Royal Bank. At least it was a no-fee account. Things I hated it for:
    – It was the biggest bank in Canada right? Well, one day I was wandering in downtown Toronto, I had trouble finding a Royal Bank ATM — maybe I didn’t know where to look.
    – The branches’ hours were even worse than my school hours. Plus, it took forever to line up for a teller. (Which I only used maybe twice in 10 years, due to the inaccessibility.)
    – Taking money out from a different branch took me 1/2 hour in addition to waiting in line.

    Then I found PC Financial. It has been my main bank since. I like the fact that it’s no fee, free cheques, high interest, and fully online. Having dealt with Royal Bank for 10 years, I learned I didn’t need bank tellers, so the lack of tellers didn’t bother me a bit. Plus, being able to use CIBC’s ATM machines for free means cash is very accessible. The PC Points program was just the icing on the cake.

    I also opened an account at TD. They had much better service and hours than Royal Bank (at least compared to 10+ years ago). Since I always keep the minimum balance, I didn’t have to pay any fee for the account neither. Despite the account being rather inactive (less than 5 transactions/month), it came in handy when I shopped for mortgage. The account was also convenient for the few times I needed to get a money order or certified cheque immediately.


    Sep 27, 2008
  7. Lior

    1) Banks are in business for their bottom line, and that is reflected in their up until recently huge net profits. Granted, with all the credit meltdown, bank stocks are taking a hit. However, let’s go back two years to when banks were being criticized left and right for outright ridiculous service charges that saw lazy and pampered bank employees tap a few keys into the system for 10 seconds and charge $3 for their mindbending hard work that in return brought all the big five banks in Canada record profits.

    I hear a lot of stories of people saying they have a “relationship” with their bank and they’ve been using the same institution for many years and so on. The reality is if you have money – you count. If you don’t – you don’t count. And when you do have money, you go to the bank that treats you and your money like a king. But don’t bother looking for those in Canada. You should rather look at banks in tax shelter nations like Monaco, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, the Bahamas, etc. If you are a high net worth individual, that is where you take your money. Credit unions I think do have a better reputation because their plans often give you a better deal than the big banks, the credit unions are smaller, it’s much easier to talk to someone and quick, and they are more consumer oriented on a personal level. This is not to say every credit union is par excellence, but having read online reviews on a regular basis, most people who work with a credit union will tell you they get a better deal and service than working with the banks for their daily banking needs. The only downside is most credit unions only have one or a few branches compared to the big banks, they tend to be more local than the big banks who are national and have thousands of branches throughout Canada. But these days with online banking, it is becoming less of a hassle.

    Nancy got me hooked with Citizens Bank and so far I really like the experience. If I have a problem with my account, I call the toll free number 24 hours a day and virtually right away I’m in contact with someone. Try that with the big banks. Holders of TD Visa would tell you how TD outsourced their call center to the Far East to further grow their profits and the kind of pathetic customer service experience they’re getting from agents who barely speak English and are often totally unhelpful. Ellen Roseman, who is top class and consumer affairs reporter for the Toronto Star, wrote a detailed article about it earlier this year. With Citizens Bank I get to talk to an adviser in Vancouver or downtown Toronto, not Mumbai. Did I mention the Toronto office’s member services rep also gave me his mobile number?

    2) They sure can and usually are to high net worth individuals. But to the average person, the difference between the big five banks is non-existent. Same #$%*, different smell. To make my example, I would just complain about the service I received at my local Scotiabank branch at few years ago. I received a tax refund in the mail and went to Scotiabank to cash it. I did not have an account with Scotia, but it was rather a matter of convenience as it is closer to my house than my BMO branch. Banks are required to cash government cheques even if you don’t have an account with the institution where you’re cashing the cheque. At first, the teller told me that they can’t cash it because I don’t have an account with Scotia. Bullshit! I told her. She went and got her manager who said if I wanted them to cash it, they would have to call CRA and verify the cheque. Fine, I said, call! That’s AFTER I gave the teller my ID and the name and address on my driver’s license matched what was printed on the cheque. I waited 10 minutes until I had enough and told the witches to give me back my cheque. I told them I’d never, ever do business with Scotiabank, nor would I recommend them to anyone. Like they care, I know, but it’s the principle. If I can dissuade one person from not working with them and that person spreads the word to another person and so on, I’ve accomplished something.

    3) So far my experience with Citizens Bank is pretty good. Aside from that online glitch I’ve experienced, and the bank personally apologized and even sent me a voucher to Starbucks which I thought was very nice, I love the prompt customer service (they actually called me back to check up on things), I never had to be on hold for more than two minutes and speak with someone who speaks coherent English, including Nancy who was kind enough to escalate my issues to the right department. I also like the fact that the Ultimate Savings Account I have pays more interest than all the big banks for similar plans. Even now when they trimmed the rate, I still get more than, say, ING’s Investment Savings account. The only thing I don’t really like but kinda knew about it is the fact that if I want to change my PIN on the bank card I’d have to go to the downtown office. But it’s not a big deal because once in a while I go shopping downtown anyway so I may as well just drop by.


    Sep 27, 2008
  8. 1) Yes people “hate” banks, for overcharging for services and their service charges in general. Credit Unions have a better reputation, but I am not sure why.

    2) A Bank should be much more helpful and talk internally a lot more. Finding out that your Mortgage is in one computer system, your bank accounts in another and your RRSPs another is just dumb. If they streamlined their systems, they could have a few more intelligent humans to help out.

    3) I like TD’s internet interface, it works quite well. The fact that I must go into my bank to get most things done, is what drives me crazy (and the FEES that get charged too).


    Sep 29, 2008
  9. Hi nancy!
    Yup, I have a love/hate relationship with my bank. I love the financial planner I have through the bank — she’s awesome! But I hate the fact that the bank itself is well, a bank with all the connotations of being a big-ass bank. My financial planner however, is so amazing that I would never go to another institution because I’m pretty sure I’d never get the same level of service with anybody else.

    I’d like to thank Nancy for sharing her coffee shop office story on Gregg’s and my blog http://www.coffeeshopoffice.wordpress.com. Thanks, Nancy! You totally rock!


    Sep 30, 2008
  10. wow – I asked for it, and I got it: some straight-shooting responses about what you love and what you hate about banks. Thanks everyone.
    If there’s one theme that stands out, it seems like it’s the depersonalization. And given banks are the stewards of our MONEY, that which can give us a sense of security or can give us anxiety attacks, wouldn’t it be nice if banks could connect to us as individual people. And if banks could be consistent – like one personality – in how they interact with us people.
    And the fees. I know I’ve been nearly choking with fury at some of the ‘dings’ I’ve received … as the bank makes money hand over fist. Straight-shooting, I think credit unions are as guilty as dinging as banks are (marginally better). The one consolation is that the profits really do go back to the community or to the members, instead of some stranger-shareholder who could live anywhere in the world.
    It will be interesting to see, as the blogosphere and web 2.0 relentlessly require all business models to put consumers back into the centre of their strategies, whether banks also do a little better by us (and I keep hearing good things about TD! Seems like they’re ahead of the curve).
    Thanks again for your comments!


    Sep 30, 2008
  11. Hmmm, I dunno. My bank in the UK is firstdirect (part of HSBC) and they were going through a “touchy feely” stage back when I joined in 2002. I didn’t feel comfortable with it though. When they phoned me on my cellphone at work and asked in soft, injured tones why I had gone over my overdraft limit, it made me really tense! It felt an intrusion of my privacy, which is utterly DAFT I know.

    I prefer faceless and corporate, but with a pinch of compassion. (A tall order, perhaps.)


    Oct 01, 2008
  12. I have fired three banks in my life. I’m quite polite during the firing process, I must admit. 😀 But I think many Canadians fear the “hassle” of leaving a bank and feel as though they are too small a customer to matter. Guess what Canadians, you matter!

    If a bank or credit union is not being competitive and is providing grief, then leave them. It’s really not that complicated to move accounts. Seriously.

    When I left BMO after being a customer for 12 years they asked me why I was hauling a$$ (my words, not theirs). I told them I would stay if they could match these key issues:

    1. Free checking account (PC Financial).
    2. Low fee index funds (TD eFunds)
    3. High Interest GICs and Savings Account (Achieva Financial)
    4. Ultra low fee mutual funds (PH&N)

    BMO laughed. So I hauled a$$.
    Having diversified accounts is good for my bottom line as well. 🙂


    Oct 01, 2008
  13. I hate the Bank of Montreal. I opened an account with them when I moved to Canada and had all my financial dealings through them. When I had to move to BC they refused to let me bring my mortgage with me – although it was up to date, and was supposed to be portable. They treated me like dirt. We were forced to rent a home for five years, until we could qualify as “first time buyers” again to use some of my RRSP for a downpayment

    So when I arrived in BC I went to Pacific Coast Savings (now Coast Capital) and would not think of going anywhere else. They are decent people and I always feel that they have my best interests at heart. They also have better systems than many banks and have dealt expeditiously with money movements to and from the UK and the US. Most importantly I pay no fees for everyday banking – including the famous “ding free” CU ATMs


    Oct 01, 2008
  14. brandi

    Maybe I am strange but I love my bank. I have banked at my branch of the Royal Bank for over 30 years and everyone there knows my name and it really feels like a small friendly bank, not one of the big banks. I have my rrsp accounts there , my mortgage, savings/chequing (I love the e savings at 2.75% with no minimum). I am a happy Royal Bank customer for life.


    Oct 02, 2008
  15. brad

    Actually, leaving a bank really is a major hassle when you have set up things like automatic paycheque deposits, Postel/EPost bills and automated payments, links to other banks and services (ING Direct, PayPal, TD eFunds), etc.

    I’m not that unhappy with my bank (Banque Nationale), because its fees are no higher than those of my local credit union (Desjardins) and its customer service is just fine, but the credit union has a branch right at the end of my street and I do like the fact that they are more community-oriented. Plus there’s the Caisse Solidaire branch of Desjardins, which is even more involved in the community and sustainability issues, which is right up my alley. I would love to transfer everything over to the credit union but the thought of setting up everything all over again is enough of a barrier that I just can’t face it.


    Oct 02, 2008
  16. Lior

    Brad: switching is not a problem at all. There may be a little bit of work of calling and informing companies about your new account. But in the long-term, if you get a really good deal then it’s all worth it. Regarding payroll, I just gave my employer the new account number and transit number and they switched everything automatically. This is usually done by changing the numbers on the computer and is something that your HR department can do in a few minutes. As for your pre-authorized debits, all it takes is a simple phone call and give them the same details you give your employer. With most companies the changes will be effective within 24 hours.


    Oct 02, 2008
  17. brad

    Lior: a friend of mine did the exact same switch that I’m contemplating (from Banque Nationale to the Desjardins credit union) last year when Banque Nationale closed the only branch in his town, and he had a couple of months of headaches while the transition took place. Plus I don’t have much faith in my employer’s HR and accounting departments; they still try to wire reimbursements to an account I closed in Vermont seven years ago!

    The bottom line is that the only reasons I’d want to switch are convenience (the credit union has a branch at the end of my street) and a somewhat stronger alignment with my principles. But the credit union’s fees are as high or higher than those of my current bank’s, and the customer service is no better. So I’ll probably just stay where I am unless the bank does something to really piss me off. 😉


    Oct 03, 2008
  18. Love/hate CIBC. I just wish they would be consistent. When I have a great banker I love CIBC. Then they leave and I am stuck with someone who doesn’t know me, or doesn’t like their job, or doesn’t know what they are doing and then I hate it. I find Coast Capital to be more consistent – I have found that almost everyone I have seen at my branch works hard to provide me with the best service possible. I also have found people are staying longer in their jobs at the credit union, making it easier to maintain that personal relationship.


    Oct 06, 2008
  19. @missthrify ROTFL – “soft injured tones” !!
    @squawkfox Vive la revolution! imagine that .. Canadians matter … 🙂
    @Stephen Yeaaah, Credit Unions!
    @brandi That’s awesome. Seriously, it’s good to know RBC has managed to retain a sense of “small” at least in one corner of its business. I can’t say the same for my experience with them, but maybe that’s because I used the “branch” in downtown vancouver.
    @brad Be Brave! Be Brave! Just set aside one morning, and do it. Sustainability, FTW!
    @Lior thanks again for the comments.
    @woolywoman Thanks for popping by. For what its worth, at our bank there’s a core of people who have been here for a long time. If you find one of those people, you can keep dealing with them usually for a number of years. I would imagine Coast Capital is the same.


    Oct 09, 2008
  20. Fyoder Larue

    I hate bank of montreal. They will bend over backwards to NOT provide anything resembling good customer service. They are an arrogant bunch of bastards exclusively concerned with squeezing the last red cent of short term profit out of anyone or anything stupid enough to get close to them. I was stupid to stick with them as long as I did, but I did finally switch to a good credit union. Best thing about hitting your head repeatedly with a hammer is that it feels so good when you stop.


    Apr 22, 2009

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