3 min read

A Guide to the top 5 banks in Canada

Written By

Aoife Stapleton

Rounding it up

  • There are five main banks in Canada, often referred to as the Big Five

  • These are: RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO, and CIBC

  • When choosing your bank it’s worth shopping around and considering things like what products they offer, their fees, and their other benefits

  • It’s good to remember there are alternatives to traditional banking, like online banks, credit unions, and of course, KOHO

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “the Big Five” pop up plenty of times in conversation, or maybe you’re still trying to wrap your head around the Canadian banking system (hey, welcome to Canada!). Either way, figuring out the right bank for you, or if there’s a right one at all, can be a bit of a minefield.

Opening an account can be a lengthy process, and working out what fees you’ll be charged and for what can also be a real head scratcher. So, we’ve made this quick and simple guide to the top 5 Canadian banks and what they can (or can’t) do for your bank balance.

Read on to get up to speed on the system.

What are the top 5 banks in Canada?

Before we get into it, these stats are taken from annual reports published by the banks themselves. The latest complete stats are current as of 2020-21.

1. Royal Bank of Canada

The Royal Bank of Canada, or as it’s most commonly known, RBC, sits at the top of the Big Five in terms of revenue – it made CAD $49.69 billion in 2021. The bank first opened its doors in 1864 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with more humble beginnings, financing lumber and timber industries. Since then, it’s grown to have over 1,300 branches with 17 million clients worldwide. Their corporate headquarters is located in Toronto, while their head office is in Montreal.

2. Toronto-Dominion Bank

Next up, sitting at number two on the list is Toronto-Dominion Bank, also known as TD. This Canadian bank has the most assets of the Big Five, which as of January 2021 were valued at C$1.7 trillion and had a total revenue of C$ 42.69 billion in 2021. TD was founded in 1955 when the Bank of Toronto and the Dominion Bank merged. Now with over 1,100 branches, the bank serves 9.6 million clients worldwide.

3. Bank of Nova Scotia

Scotiabank, or The Bank of Nova Scotia, is the third largest bank in Canada with a revenue of 31.25 billion (as of 2021). The bank has over 900 branches across Canada, with 21 million customers worldwide, and offers trade on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges. It was founded in 1842 in Halifax and relocated to Toronto in 1900, with its headquarters there ever since.

4. Bank of Montreal

Coming in fourth is Bank of Montreal, or as most people know it, BMO. With a total revenue of C$26.056 billion in 2021, BMO has about 900 branches across Canada and over 8 million clients. The bank is known for having met dividend payments throughout many historical world crises, like World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The bank was founded in 1817 in Montreal, and still has its headquarters there to this day.

5. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is most commonly known to Canadians as CIBC and comes in at the bottom of the list with a revenue of 20.02 billion in 2021. The bank has about 1,100 branches across Canada, with over 11 million worldwide clients. Founded in 1961, it’s the newest of the Big Five after a merging of the Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Imperial Bank of Canada.

What to consider when choosing a bank

There are so many things to take into consideration when choosing a bank, and it’s not always a walk in the park. There’s a tonne of information out there that can sometimes be more cause for confusion than clarity. To narrow it down, here’s some of the most important factors to think about when choosing where you should store your hard earned cash.

What products they offer

When it comes to picking your bank, it’s best to start off by considering the type of financial products you want. Do you want a checking account? A savings account? An investing account? A credit card? Or maybe you want a combination of all of the above. Making sure your bank offers everything you’re looking for is important to avoid having a few different ones on the go. It’s best to keep all of your financial products with the same institution so when it comes to keeping track of your finances, you can save time by being able to search all your transactions in the same place. Trust us, you’ll thank us later.

What fees they have

One of the biggest bug bearers when it comes to choosing your bank is trying to figure out their fees. Some of the big banks will charge an arm and a leg for not only monthly account fees, but other banking fees that sometimes feel like they never existed until they come out of your account (and somehow, it’s always that one week where you're short on cash). Look out for things like fees to print out your account statements, interac transfer fees, and overdraft fees. Although they can seem small on their own, they can add up pretty quickly over time. It’s good to spend some time studying the fine print, because although they can look much the same across each bank, some banks will offer extras for free (like cheques), while others won’t.

Other benefits

It’s worth looking into what additional benefits a bank is offering. For example, some banks might have a good interest rate on your savings account, others could have a good reward points system when you use your debit card (travel points can come in particularly handy if you’re a frequent flier), or a waiver on annual credit card fees when you open an account with them. Some will even have offers for Canadian newcomers to help them get set up.

How easy is it to bank with them

It’s worth looking into the process of opening an account with each bank to find out how straight forward it is. You should also check how close each of your local branches are, although you won’t often need to go into a branch anymore, it can be handy to have one of their ATMs nearby.

Check out their mobile app and see how easy it is to navigate. Look up some online forums and see if their customers are having any issues with it. Do the same for their customer service and support lines. Give them a call yourself to get a gauge on things like wait times and quality of service

Alternatives to the top 5 banks in canada

Although they are called the Big Five, these 5 banks are not the be-all, end-all of financial products in Canada. Our banking system is an oligopoly, so although they all have their differences, the system remains relatively unchanged and can often sometimes feel a bit outdated. If you do your research and find that none of them are really speaking to you, remember you always have other options. Here’s a few to consider.

Online banks

Online banks are becoming more and more popular and can be a really great alternative if you’re looking to avoid fees. With no physical locations to run and maintain, they don’t have to charge you in the same way a regular bank will. The only downside is sometimes getting things done online can be more difficult. Without being able to just walk into a branch and ask someone in real life, you can be left waiting a bit longer for your issues and requests to be resolved.

Credit unions

Credit Unions have been around a long time, but that doesn’t mean they’re something to be overlooked. They are more locally focused than a regular bank. Rather than becoming a client, you become a local member who usually has a small stake in that particular credit union. Their community focus is a big draw for people, as the staff will often get to know the members and their financial situation on a more personal level, but this means your money can be a little less accessible with fewer branches than a regular bank. Some credit unions will have a membership requirement too, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for that.

KOHO: A banking alternative

We may be biased, but KOHO is a great alternative to the big Canadian banks. We offer a spending and savings account that’s free of fees and you can earn 0.5% interest on your entire balance across both accounts. Every time you use your KOHO Mastercard, you can earn cash back, and we’ve got lots of in-app tools that’ll help you save smarter. There’s no hidden fees, no minimum balance and if you have a question, our user success team is available to chat to you on the app.

Final thoughts on the top 5 banks in Canada

No matter what bank you choose to go with, or even if you don’t, it’s important to always consider your options when looking for new financial products and be aware of the alternatives out there (and remember, there's new alternatives appearing all the time). Traditional banking isn’t for everybody, so don’t feel like you have to follow the crowd when it comes to having a traditional bank account.

Note: KOHO product information and/or features may have been updated since this blog post was published. Please refer to our KOHO Plans page for our most up to date account information!