Best Banks in Canada 2021

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Luisa Rollenhagen

Luisa Rollenhagen is a writer and editor who lives in Berlin.

Choosing a bank is no small matter: After all, it’s where you’ll be keeping your money. But not all banks are created equal, and when choosing a bank you should be considering factors like fees and accessibility in order to ensure you’re not losing money to the place that’s supposed to keep it safe. Perks like competitive interest rates for savings accounts, new member benefits, overdraft protection, and other features can also help save you money and time. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on Canada’s best banks, so that you can find the best fit for you and your money.

Best Banks in Canada

Let’s start with the classics. These are brick-and-mortar banks that have various branches in various cities, ATMs, and a long history of customer service. There are many reasons why people would still seek out a “classic” bank, even as online-only banks have become more common and convenient. Having a real-life relationship with your local bank can still be a valuable asset, and even just sitting down with another person can often help you secure better deals, negotiate fees, or find solutions to special cases. Talking to a real-life person can also be useful for people wishing to discuss complex financial topics, like retirement planning, mortgage refinancing, how to best save for your child’s future, and more.

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In Canada, we tend to speak of the “Big 5” banks that are nationally known and have the biggest presence across the country. Here’s a breakdown of the “Big 5”:

Royal Bank of Canada

The Royal Bank of Canada is Canada’s largest bank and was founded in 1864. The Bank has over 16 million customers worldwide, and offers chequing accounts, savings accounts, student account, accounts for new immigrants to Canada, and even U.S. dollar accounts. For its chequing accounts, fees range from $4 a month to $30 a month, with perks for new customers.

Its history of stability and its size make it a popular bank in Canada, particularly since it has the largest branch and ATM network in the country, with over 50,000 ATMs available to customers for no-fee withdrawal. In addition to its chequing and savings accounts, RBC also offers insurance products, an investment platform, and wealth management services.

Toronto-Dominion Bank

TD Bank is the second-largest bank in Canada, and has over 25 million customers worldwide. In addition to being well-represented internationally, TD has over 1,100 branches in Canada and an ATM network of 2,800 machines across the country. TB Bank was established in Toronto in 1855.

TD has a wide variety of accounts, including chequing accounts with fees ranging from $3.95 a month to $29.95 a month, as well as savings accounts, student accounts, youth accounts, U.S. dollar accounts, and “New to Canada” accounts. It also offers credit cards, mortgages, loans, insurance, retirement products like RRSPs and TFSAs, as well as investing opportunities.

Scotiabank

Canada’s third-largest bank has been around since 1832 and serves more than 25 million customers around the world. It has a broad range of financial products, a history of stability, and thousands of physical bank branches as well as a network of more than 3,500 ATMs across Canada.

Scotiabank offers six different types of bank accounts, including chequing accounts, savings accounts, student accounts, and senior accounts. Its chequing account fees range from $3.95 per month to $30.95 for their perk-heavy Ultimate Account. It also offers 18 types of credit cards, including no-fee cards, cash-back cards, and travel rewards cards. In addition to everyday banking accounts and credit cards, Scotiabank provides mortgages, loans, and lines of credit. It has its own investing platform and offers investment accounts, including RRSPs and TFSAs.

Bank of Montreal

Canada’s fourth-largest and also oldest bank is the Bank of Montreal, which was founded in Montreal in 1817. The bank has over 7 million clients in Canada and 939 branches, as well as a network of over 2,000 ATMs.

The Bank of Montreal offers a variety of chequing and savings accounts, including student accounts, accounts for newcomers to Canada, and personalized banking for members of indigenous communities. The bank’s chequing account fees range from $0 a month to $15.95 a month for chequing accounts with more tricked-out features, including a $350 opening bonus and a free U.S. dollar savings account. Other financial products include mortgages, credit cards, loans, insurance, financial planning services, and investment options through accounts such as RRSPs and TFSAs.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is the fifth-largest bank in Canada and has been around since 1961. It serves more than 11 million clients worldwide, and over 1,100 branches in Canada, as well as a network of over 3,700 ATMs.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce offers several chequing and savings accounts, including student and senior accounts, as well as U.S. dollar accounts and accounts for foreign workers. Chequing account fees start from $3.90 a month to $29.95 a month. In addition to banking account, CIBC also offers traditional financial products like mortgages, loans, and insurance, as well as retirement products like TFSAs and RRSPs.

While the Big 5 tend to have pretty similar features and accounts, it’s well worth checking their websites for any seasonal promotions or deals for new customers if you’re looking to open an account at one of them.

Best online banks in Canada

While many users value the history and human service of brick-and-mortar banks, more and more people are choosing to bank the way they watch TV, order a takeaway curry, and buy concert tickets. Online-only banks have become increasingly popular because of the convenience they offer—all your banking can be done from your laptop or even from an app on your smartphone, without ever having to get up from the sofa.

While most chequing accounts at brick-and-mortar banks will charge you a so-called account maintenance fee, online banks usually don’t charge anything for their accounts, tend to have lower or even no minimum account balances, and offer higher interest rates on savings accounts. That’s because online-only banks have way less overhead costs: They don’t have to rent space for physical branches, and they don’t have to pay tellers, security guards, and other staff. Those savings are passed along to the consumer. Plus, you know your money is safe: The funds you deposit in Canadian online banks are protected by Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC – similar to traditional banks) or the relevant credit union deposit guarantee corporation.

Here are the most popular online banks currently operating in Canada:

Tangerine

Tangerinehas over 2 million users and close to $40 billion in total assets. Tangerine doesn’t charge any fees for daily banking activities, and also offers credit cards, mortgages, investment options, and five different savings accounts in addition to chequing accounts, including retirement-friendly products like RRSPs and TFSAs.

Its chequing account has no monthly fees, unlimited free daily transactions, free cheques (first book), and free access to 3,500 ATMs in Canada and 44,000 worldwide.

EQ Bank

EQ Bank is the online banking branch of Equitable Bank. EQ Bank focuses specifically on offering high-interesting savings with no monthly fees, unlimited free transactions, and no minimum balance. Their account functions like a hybrid savings-chequing account, where users benefit from a 1.50% interest rate while also being able to use everyday banking features.

EQ Bank also offers high-interest guaranteed investment certificates with terms from 1-5 years.

Simplii

Like the name suggests, this online-only bank keeps things simple with no-fee chequing accounts, high interest savings accounts, and all the usual financial products you know from traditional banks, including credit cards, mortgages, loans, and investment options. Simplii Financial is the direct banking arm of CIBC and formerly operated as PC Financial.

Its no-fee chequing account offers unlimited debit purchases, bill payments and withdrawals, free access to over 3,400 CIBC ATMs across Canada, and free Interac e-Transfers®.

Manulife Bank

Manulife Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company. It was established in 1993 and offers chequing, savings, mortgages, loans, and investment accounts. While Manulife’s chequing accounts don’t have monthly fees, you do need to keep a minimum account balance of $1,000 in order to enjoy free banking service. Manulife also offers a 0.15% interest rate on their Advantage Account, which is basically a hybrid savings/chequing model.

Account holders also have access to over 3,500 surcharge-free ATMs across Canada through The Exchange Network.

Motusbank

Motusbank offers the full spectrum of banking products, including zero-fee chequing and savings accounts and personal loans and mortgages, as well as investment options.

Its customers also have access to over 3,700 free ATMs across Canada through The Exchange Network.

Online banks in Canada: Comparison

Want a quick overlook of how each online bank stacks up to each other? We got you:

FeatureTangerineEQ BanksSimpliiManulifeMotusbank
Chequing accountYesNoYesYesYes
Savings accountYes (5 types)Yes (hybrid savings/chequing account)YesYesYes
Student/Youth accountsNoNoNoNoNo
Monthly fees$0$0$0$10 per month for the high-interest savings account, but this fee is waived if you save at least $100.$0
Minimum account balanceNoneNoneNone$1,000 for its Advantage AccountNone
Max. savings interest rate2.15% (for the first 5 months)0.10% after that1.50%0.15%0.15%1%
InvestmentsGICs, index fundsGICsGICs, mutual fundsGICs, mutual funds, ETFsGICs
Investment accountsRRSP, TFSA, RRIF, non-registered investment accountsNon-registered investment accountsRRSP, TFSA, non-registered investment accountsRRSP, TFSA, RRIF, non-registered investment accountsTFSA, RRSP, non-registered investment accounts

Alternative financial institutions

As online banks have proliferated, so have alternative financial institutions that offer a variety of savings and investment accounts without actually being a bank. One of the reasons why people might choose alternative financial institutions is because they are able to focus their efforts on a very specific financial field, such as investing, and offer more bespoke service at significantly lower fees. Another reason is that alternative financial institutions often are able to offer more innovative products like hybrid chequing/savings accounts that give you all the convenience of a chequing account with the high growth potential of a high-interest savings account.

Alternative financial institutions often also offer lower barriers of entry for those looking to try out new financial products, and can help newbies build up savings or dip their toes into investing. With that in mind, here are some of Canada’s top alternative financial institutions:

Wealthsimple

You didn’t think we’d forget to include ourselves, did you? While Wealthsimple isn’t a bank, we still offer a host of no-to-low-fee financial products, including our hybrid savings/chequing account Wealthsimple Cash, as well as business accounts, joint and individual personal investing accounts, and retirement products like RRSPs, TFSAs, RESPs, and RRIFs. We also have a platform for self-directed trading, as well as the option to trade in cryptocurrencies.

With no account minimums, no trading commissions, human support from financial experts, and low management fees on investment accounts, Wealthsimple provides a wide variety of smart and savvy financial products.

Nest Wealth

Nest Wealth is a wealth management company that provides investors with a variety of simple-to-use investment accounts and portfolio options. It makes investing easy for clients by using smarter technology and proven investment principles. It was founded in 2014.

Nest Weah requires no account minimum, and offers TFSAs, RRSPs, and RRIFs as well as customer support and access to financial advisors. However, it does charge fees: Nest Wealth charges $20 per month for investments under $75,000, $40 per month for $75k-$150k, and $80 each month if you invest more than $150k.

Koho

Koho is a Canadian financial institution that provides fee-free chequing accounts with the perks of a credit card and a savings account, including 0.5% cashback on all purchases and a roundup feature, which rounds up your purchases to the nearest buck or two (or five or ten) and then stashes that amount away. You can set saving goals that are linked to your Koho card (which is a reloadable prepaid Visa). While Koho doesn’t replace all banking necessities, its account works as a convenient chequing account with added perks and greater spending/saving oversight thanks to their app.

CI Direct Investing (formerly Wealthbar)

CI Direct Investing (formerly Wealthbar) is a registered portfolio manager and full Life Insurance Agent in British Columbia and Ontario. They describe themselves as offering premium online investing without the premium price. They have over $275 million in assets under management, and are a robo-advisor, just like Wealthsimple and Nest Wealth.

CI offers investment products like personal investment accounts as well as RRSPs, TFSAs, RRIFs, and corporate accounts that are professionally managed. However, CI Direct Investing does have an account minimum of $1,000.

Moka (formerly Mylo)

Moka (which used to be called Mylo) is a savings app that allows Canadians to round up purchases from a linked debit or credit card and then puts the spare change into an investment account. In addition to the round-up feature, users can set automatic recurring investments so that their savings can grow even further. Moka’s portfolio manager invests your money using a diversified portfolio of low-cost ETFs.

Moka charges a flat fee of $3 a month to use its services, as well as charging management fees that range from 0.06% to 0.38% for your portfolio.

How to find the best bank for your needs

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you need from your banking experience. Are you looking for a one-stop-shop where you can take care of all of your financial business, even if the fees are a bit higher? Or are you looking for financial products to enhance your savings or streamline your investments with lower fees? Are you someone who’s constantly withdrawing cash, or do you prefer to pay with cards and want to take advantage of cash-back perks and collect points? Whatever your individual needs and preferences are, here are some factors you should watch out for when choosing a bank:

Identify your needs

Are you looking for a no-frills chequing account for everyday spending? Then a simple online-only bank may be the solution for you. Perhaps you want to maximize your savings? Then a high-interest savings account is a good bet. Do you want to start investing or transfer your RRSP to a low-fee provider? Perhaps you want a one-stop-shop with plenty of access to financial planners and advisors, a wide network of ATMs, and cash-back credit cards? Then a Big 5 bank might be for you. Whatever you choose, make sure it fits your banking habits and needs.

Pay attention to account minimums

Choose a provider that makes sense for what you can contribute now—and in the future. Some financial institutions require you to deposit as much as $1,000 to get started, while other banks have no account minimums at all. In some cases you could face nasty penalties for dropping below the account minimum - or be forced to close your account.

Watch out for fees

Nothing eats away at long-term gains quite like fees. And we’re talking about more than just account maintenance fees (though they’re important, too). Account transfers and withdrawal fees can also add up. The best financial institutions are upfront with what it costs to bank with them.

Think about accessibility

Accessibility can mean different things for different people. But in general, think about how difficult it is to find no-fee ATMs, how quickly you can talk to someone if there’s ever a problem, and whether you can carry out everyday banking activities on your laptop, in person, or on your phone via an app.

Understand the terms of the account

Relationships end—even when you’re investing for the long term. Before you commit, find out what happens if you need to withdraw your funds, close an account, or want to move on to a new financial institution and whether there are any penalties involved.

Last Updated January 13, 2021

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