Least evil Canadian bank?
April 19, 2007 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Least evil Canadian bank?

I'm in the midst of preparing for my move from the US to Hamilton, ON (detailed here, and thanks everybody for the great answers) and it's occurred to me that I'm going to have to think about banks. I've heard that banks in Canada are generally evil -- lots of fees for everything amongst other badness. So what's the least evil Canadian bank?

Least evil for me would mean really two things: low or no fees for things like checks or ATM, and online banking provisions including bill pay.

Does such a bank exist? Or is a credit union better?
posted by the dief to Work & Money (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check into a credit union like Alterna Savings or something like ING Direct, though I can't speak for their evilness or lack of it.

I thought all banks, everywhere, were evil. My bank is TD Canadatrust, which is indeed evil, but also ubiquitous. I was with a credit union but being self employed depositing money was not convenient as I had to mail them my check or truck across town to manually deposit it. If you work for someone who does auto deposits, this won't be an issue.

I pay my back $12 a month for unlimited everything, I think. (ATM use, cheques, etc.).
posted by dobbs at 3:10 PM on April 19, 2007

I pay $3.95 a month for a savings/chequing account at Scotiabank. Unlimited cheques, free Scotia ATM withdrawals (as far as I've seen), and so on. I also have their free Moneymaster account that pays a high interest rate without requiring me to be subject to the holds entailed in transferring to ING.
posted by acoutu at 3:10 PM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: If you don't mind an online bank, PC Financial has a no-fee checking account and a very nice high-interest savings account (4% if you keep at least $1000). The great thing about it is that you can use CIBC ATMs which are everywhere free of charge. Plus, you points by using your debit card which lead to free groceries at Loblaws (although I'm not sure if there is one in Hamilton).
posted by snoogles at 3:14 PM on April 19, 2007

Yeah, go PC Financial for the least evil banking experience. Unless of course you like strolling into a pretty branch with pretty tellers smiling back at you, then any of those national banks are pretty much all the same. Fees...always...increasing.
posted by ageispolis at 3:18 PM on April 19, 2007

Best answer: I've been a while with PC, have had 2 mortgages with them, several accounts, etc. By far cheapest mortgage, no fee banking etc.. I agree with the above, BUT, I've had some difficulties for example when I lost my bank card, actually dealing with someone was a bit of a hassle for banking issues (but the phone/email mortgage communications were great), and you can't get some deluxe features like money transfers between banks.

PC mastercard (no fee) will give you PC points which can be used for groceries at Loblaws/Superstore.

I've had a (very) few instances where my PC card was not accepted for debit. I wouldn't travel internationally with only a PC bank card, for example. It also depends whether you have a nearby Pavillion in a superstore with an actual body for when it's needed on occasion or whether (like me) you don't.

Bottom line for me: PC has been better than my evil experiences with scotiabank (far more evil than just the evil service charges), but it still has issues.
posted by kch at 3:32 PM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! Good info here, great stuff. I didn't even know PC had a bank.
posted by the dief at 3:34 PM on April 19, 2007

My experience with banks in the US (Bank of America, SunTrust, RBC Centura) have not made me think banks down here are any less evil.

I've never been a customer of PC Financial but my friends who have accounts are fans. Apparently their interest on savings accounts is actually more than a penny a year.

I've been a customer of the Atlantic Credit Union, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), and Scotiabank; my parents are long-standing TD Bank customers and since there's a TD Banknorth in my American town I am in the process of getting a TD account so I can more easily pay off my Canadian credit card. (Currently I am using RBC Centura to get money into my Canadian account - having a US affiliate and an online account allows you to bypass the international waiting period on cheques.) I have no direct experience with the Bank of Montreal so can't give an opinion there.

My experience with the RBC has been uniformly positive. I pay very few fees - $6/month covers everything, except for getting money out of other people's interac* accounts, for which I pay a dollar, which is the same at all institutions afaik. I don't have to maintain a minimum balance either. The staff were always friendly and helpful, and were quick to fix mistakes when they occurred.

*interac = the consortium that administers the debit card system in Canada (people use it as a verb too)

Everybody has online banking/bill pay now, so I don't think that needs to be a factor in your decision.

However, my experience with RBC Centura has been almost entirely negative (bad customer service to the point of inducing rage, unbelievable fees), so if you need a to maintain a banking presence in the US, and opt to get an account at an affiliated institution, I can't recommend RBC because their US affiliate is so maddeningly awful.

I loved the Atlantic Credit Union, though they require a minimum balance (which is technically your share in the credit union). My understanding is that the credit unions are all kind of connected nationally. The drawback here is that their ATMs are much less ubiquitous, and all banks (afaik) charge at least the interac fee (and some also have an internal surcharge).

I left Scotiabank because of their hours, which coincided perfectly with my job and therefore I could never go to a branch. YMMV. I don't remember their fees being unusually bad.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:52 PM on April 19, 2007

(Whoops, added the sentence about online banking without previewing - the "However" refers to the previous paragraph about RBC...)
posted by joannemerriam at 3:53 PM on April 19, 2007

I'll 2nd the Credit Union idea. My personal preference is Coast Capital Savings. I pay a grand total of $1.75 a month for unlimited everything++, as long as I only use credit union ATM machines (not limited to just CCS ones). However, they're rather localized to the Lower Mainland area of BC, so that's not gonna work for you, obviously. But check out the credit unions in your area - you might be pleasantly surprised.
posted by cgg at 3:57 PM on April 19, 2007

3rd Credit Union.
posted by stungeye at 4:09 PM on April 19, 2007

PC Financial ... (although I'm not sure if there is one in Hamilton).

There are kiosks in the Fortino's grocery stores. I've been using them for a couple of years and have no complaints at all.
posted by zarah at 4:27 PM on April 19, 2007

Note that PC Financial doesn't just grant you access to CIBC ATMs -- all of their services are provided by CIBC. If you consider CIBC an Evil Bank then PC might not be for you.

I've been really happy with TD Canada Trust. I was a Canada Trust customer before TD bought them, and TD very much tried to use the acquisition to teach TD employees how to act like Canada Trust employees. My stepmother works for them (but I was a customer before she started, so it's not like I'm a shill!) and they treat their employees very well, and from what I've seen in the branches, it shows.
posted by mendel at 5:26 PM on April 19, 2007

I also use PC and have been very happy with it. I concur with KCH, though, that when you have an exceptional request or problem it sucks to deal with them in person. Not because they are rude -- it's just that there are no branches to go to and get things straightened out at once. But I rarely have issue -- the last time I called was when I was opening the account -- so it's totally worth it. I don't really see why anyone should pay fees if they don't need to.

Incidentally, I've never had any kind of problem with my PC card being accepted all over Canada and the US -- it's effectively a CIBC account, and it's on the Plus and Interac networks, so they should be nearly universal.
posted by loiseau at 5:30 PM on April 19, 2007

Ugh, PC. Ugh, CIBC.

The only bank I've had satisfaction from in Canada is TD.
posted by unSane at 5:56 PM on April 19, 2007

I think you need a real bank, not an online-only bank. At the very least, you will need a bank with excellent telephone support. When I banked with TD, they couldn't change my address to a United States address using the online form - I had to call them up. Their phone support was reasonable.

It is also a good idea to have a real bank in case you are depositing foreign checks (cheques). You are not supposed to put them in the ATM, bad things can happen.

Keep in mind that as a foreigner, you will have more weird transactions (wire transfers, etc) and it will be helpful to go to a real branch. TD is fine. Their USD account is useless, though (it has a Canadian routing number so it cannot be used for direct deposit or autopay of US bills).
posted by crazycanuck at 5:58 PM on April 19, 2007

I am using a combination of PC Financial and Royal Bank of Canada. It's an excellent pair to go with.

I use PC Financial for: (no fee)
* All debit transactions
* All bill payments
* Mastercard
* Savings

I use Royal Bank for:
* Any international debit or VISA transaction
* USD account

...because there's a little known secret that Royal Bank has a no monthly fee account - you just have to ask to be taken off a 'plan'. This way you are charged for transactions, but if you make very few it will cost far less than a banking plan. Only use RBC for international and transactions you need help, or the assistance of tellers!

Oh, and I use E*Trade for investments.
posted by niccolo at 6:06 PM on April 19, 2007

TD is fine. Their USD account is useless, though (it has a Canadian routing number so it cannot be used for direct deposit or autopay of US bills).
posted by crazycanuck at 8:58 PM on April 19

Note that TD is affiliated with TD Banknorth. Crazycanuck is referring to their account that is in USD dollars. TD Banknorth would have a US routing number.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:21 PM on April 19, 2007

although you've heard about PC already, i just wanted to say how much i love them.

i used to bank with CIBC, and although i never had any major problems, PC financial is by far the best bank. i'm a fan.
posted by gursky at 6:26 PM on April 19, 2007

We use PC Financial for their high-interest savings account. It's great. However, they offer virtually no service. As long as the initial setup is the only human interaction you ever require, you'll be fine. It's very tough to get responsive service with PC.
posted by Milkman Dan at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2007

Speaking as a Hamilton-ite, and in the interests of full disclosure, someone that works for the co-op movement and works with credit unions in my day-to-day job...

I would go with a combination of PC financial and a credit union - that's what I do. You get the convenience, plus the non-evil of a credit union.

Hamilton CUs that you might want to look into:
If you're a teacher - Teachers' CU. I am a member of FirstOntario (who is in the midst of a really nasty labour dispute currently, which is causing me a little inconvenience at the moment). The municipal employees and the McMaster employees have their own CUs. If Alterna or Meridian were in Hamilton, I would recommend them - they are two of the most progressive CUs in Ontario in terms of social lending and community focus. Desjardins (the Quebec-based CU that is the granddaddy of all CUs in North America) has a branch in downtown Hamilton. There are a number of closed bond ethnic based CUs in the eastern part of the city: Croatian, Ukranian, Italian - you will have to meet strict criteria to join. You can search for CUs by area at the Credit Union Central of Ontario website: http://www.ontariocreditunions.com/
posted by Cyrie at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2007

Also, missed your thread on moving to Hamilton (it looks like lowlife and I live around the same area) - welcome, hope you enjoy the new job at Mac!
posted by Cyrie at 6:55 PM on April 19, 2007

I actually love my bank. Really. I've been with them for about a decade or so. Citizen's Bank of Canada is an extension of the VanCity Credit Union. They have more of an brick-and-mortar presence on the west coast. But they have a great online presence, and if you have a balance of $1000 you pay no fees. Cheques are free, bill payments are free, and there are no ATM fees if you use Alterna or HSBC ATMs. (btw, My trick to avoid getting reamed by the ATM fees is to ask for "cash back" when paying with Interact.) oh, and no fees for interact payments.

They also have a toll-free number that isn't a interactive-voice-response nightmare. You press "0" and can talk to a real person.

I also have an Alterna account, but it's $0.40 for a bill payment, and monthly fees (never broken down) are in the $4 range. Cheques also cost extra. Recently, I added a US dollar account, so that might be handy for you. (hmm, I just realized I might be paying an extra $4/month for that.)

I've used Royal Bank, TD, Canada Trust, etc. but they all just swamp you in fees and extra charges. (I remember the Royal Bank was charging extra for internet banking. Insane.)

Anyways, virtual banking works great for me.
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:40 PM on April 19, 2007

Note that various banks also are the major car insurance providers - eg RBC and PC. I've heard PC has comparatively good rates, too.

If you want to get a credit card when you come over, your US credit rating may not transfer - so you may need to get a "secured" bank VISA card (ie you put money in an account, equal to your credit limit) to start building credit.

Both things are worth asking about when you are checking out banks (eg are there discounts for package services).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:45 PM on April 19, 2007

The only thing I can think of against PC banking is that you won't have a personal banker. I am a RBC client. I have had dozens of unbelievably frustrating experiences with the bank, mostly having to do with arbitrary idiotic peons and unbelievably amateurish service . I used to dream about destroying them, until 9/11, when such thoughts ceased to be so abstract and entertaining.

But I was able to get a great personal banker here in Toronto who guides me through the morass. He is pretty honest-- all banks are trying to make as much money as they can off you, but they are all in competition with one another. You need to have a person guiding you through. There are a thousand pitfalls they set up for you.

When you get to Hamilton ask around to see if any of your colleagues has a good personal banker. Mine is worth his weight in gold.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:46 PM on April 19, 2007

P.S. A friend of mine's father is a VP of CIBC. Even he acknowledges they have the worst service of any bank in Canada. RBC and Bank of Montreal are the two charter banks with the fewest complaints against them, but they still manage to make piles of money off their clients.

Good luck in Hamilton. It's not immediately attractive, but there are a lot of great things and nice people there.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:51 PM on April 19, 2007

I've also been with Citizen's Bank for about 6 years, after the Royal Bank screwed us royally not once but three times in a year. I've been very happy with them - except for some difficulties in getting to ATMs without service charges.
posted by hamfisted at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2007

It's not just the banks, it's apparently the mail, too.

I work for a business in the U.S. that expanded into Canada in '05 and we are on the verge of trying a third canadian bank in hopes that we may process cheques as checks in anything less than a solid month.

We hear all the time from our customers aboot how slow the mail is in Canada.
posted by longsleeves at 8:43 PM on April 19, 2007

PC Financial is great!

Great, that is, as long as what you are doing is simple; get paid, use debit, withdraw money, pay bills. I expect the same argument goes for the mortgage and term deposit sides of their business, as soon as it gets slightly complicated, it is hard or impossible (for example, when my Mom put the deposit on her house, she had to do it with postal money orders, because she couldn't get a certified cheque fast enough).

Also, PC telephone operators (and the procedures they are forced to follow) are pretty bad.

I still love it, mostly because it gives me a sense of security (probably false) that I will always be able to do my basic banking for free, free, free!
posted by Chuckles at 10:48 PM on April 19, 2007

We hear all the time from our customers aboot how slow the mail is in Canada.

Mail in Canada is incredibly inconsistent. Some things are astonishingly cheap and fast, but others are incredibly painful. For example, 10lbs+ shipped within southern Ontario can cost less than $10, and be delivered in 1-2 days, but live in the wrong place and your letter mail can be very slow.
posted by Chuckles at 10:57 PM on April 19, 2007

I like the Desjardins Credit Union. They have (at least) one branch in Hamilton.
posted by philfromhavelock at 6:22 AM on April 20, 2007

Note that TD is affiliated with TD Banknorth. Crazycanuck is referring to their account that is in USD dollars. TD Banknorth would have a US routing number.

Actually I was referring to the TD Waterhouse account. TD Waterhouse used to have a US routing number. In late 2004, it was switched to a Canadian one. When I inquired at the bank, I was told that US banking regulations had changed and that only domestic US institutions could have US routing numbers. I haven't inestigated further since (I just got a domestic US account).
posted by crazycanuck at 7:09 AM on April 20, 2007

Credit Unions, all the way. I've had nothing but trouble the likes of TD, Royal, and the other big banks.
posted by jjb at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2007

crazycanuck: Interesting. I didn't know Waterhouse used to have a US routing number.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:49 PM on April 20, 2007

One minor caveat about PC Bank (connected to their lack of customer service)...they seem to have an obscenely high number of blackouts. I know a lot of people in retail who refuse to bank with them because if they're operating the cash and someone's credit/debit doesn't go through, 9/10 times its PC (so I've been told...I also shop at Loblaws-owned stores weekly and have seen this happen an oddly high number of times). I assume this is a combination of 1) every time CIBC goes down, PC also goes down, 2) PC sometimes goes down on its own, 3) you will mostly be shopping in Loblaws-owned grocery stores, and the store's system might go down.

But unless you live cash-free and tend to panic at computer glitches, this seems minor when compared to the benefits...
posted by sarahkeebs at 8:23 AM on April 21, 2007

Something else weird about PC Bank. They were the only bank my lawyer explictly called out as unable to direct deposit checks to.
posted by Mitheral at 4:40 PM on April 23, 2007

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