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Canadian Financial Services

If you’re a Canadian who is looking for any of a number of financial services, the market can be daunting at first glance. There are a wide variety of options available, regardless of whether you’re looking for something as simple as opening a basic bank account or something as complex as a diversified package of investments.

Depending on your level of financial expertise and experience, you might feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out your best options and make the soundest financial decision possible. This guide will break down some of the details and possibilities for a range of financial services Canadians have at their disposal.

Basic Banking

Regardless of whether or not you intend to invest money, take out a mortgage or other loan, or participate in any of a number of complex financial services, you’ll probably also want to have a basic bank account.

Checking and savings accounts are the easiest way to manage money so that it’s easily accessible for everyday use, as well as paying monthly bills and other expenses. Fortunately, opening a bank account is extremely simple and requires little in the way of documentation.

Bank Account Requirements

As long as you’re a Canadian citizen and can provide a few forms of identification, you are eligible to open a bank account. It’s not necessary to prove that you are employed or that you have a place of residence. Nor can you be barred from opening a bank account due to having declared bankruptcy in the past. You don’t even need to deposit money in an opened account right away.

The only requirements for opening a bank account in Canada are that you’re able to produce certain forms of identification.

If you can produce two of the following:

  • A valid Canadian Driver’s License
  • A Canadian-issued birth certificate
  • A valid and up-to-date Canadian passport
  • A government issued SIN (Social Insurance Number) card
  • A Certificate of Indian Status
  • A government issued Old Age Security Card
  • A Certificate either of Naturalization or of Canadian Citizenship
  • An Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Form or Permanent Resident Card
  • Under provincial or territorial law, a Health Insurance Card

You will be able to open a bank account.

Alternately, you can present one form of identification from the above list and a debit or credit card, an employee ID card with a picture if the employer is an area company or a valid and up-to-date foreign passport.

Finally, you have the option of presenting one of the forms of ID from the top list and also have someone within the community or a member of the bank or credit union vouch for your identity.

Bank vs. Credit Union/Credit Institution

If you’re going to open a bank account, you’ll need to decide whether you want to open it through a bank or a credit union. To understand your options and why you might choose one over the other, it’s necessary to understand the difference between the two.

While there are a number of technical differences, probably the most fundamental and important to understand is that credit unions are not-for-profit organizations while banks are for-profit companies. A credit union doesn’t seek to make money for shareholders, but instead issues any profits made to the people who have put their money in the credit union – In other words, you.

Banks and credit unions and credit institutions offer many of the same kinds of services, such as loans, mortgages, insurance, investment vehicles and checking/savings accounts. Regardless of whether you choose a bank or a credit union, you’ll likely be receiving most of the same kinds of features. So what would make you choose one over the other?

The biggest advantage credit unions offer is a greater return on investment for money you’ve deposited in a savings account. Because credit unions aren’t trying to make a profit, they funnel more money back to you. If your primary concern is getting a savings account that offers the best ROI, a credit union is probably makes the most sense. The same is true of fees – credit institutions tend to have lower fees than banks.

The largest advantage banks offers is their size. Banks are much larger institutions than credit unions, and have a much wider range of branches and ATMs. If you plan to travel throughout Canada or abroad, a bank account through a large, multinational bank will give you a better chance of finding an ATM or branch, which will cut down on fees charged for withdrawing money.

Banks also tend to be more tech-savvy than credit unions, and if you like to take advantage of cutting-edge features, a bank might be your best choice.

Mortgages and Other Loans

One of the most commonly sought financial services in Canada are mortgages and other loans. Generally, you’ll arrange for a loan through a bank, credit institution or other broker. If you’ve already got a mortgage, you may also be considering refinancing your mortgage depending on current interest rates vs. when you initially took it out.

One thing to be particularly aware of is a new set of regulations the Canadian government has put into place regarding mortgages. In order to qualify, you’ll need to demonstrate the ability to handle a mortgage with an interest rate significantly higher than the rate contracted.

This marks yet another regulation since 2008, when the Canadian government has gone to lengths to regulate the amount of debt Canadian citizens take on.

In order to qualify for a mortgage or other loan, you’ll have to pass a credit check, and certain loans are only available to people with good to excellent credit. It’s a good idea to get a credit report before applying for any major loan to understand your chances.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages

One of the most popular financial services in the past few decades is the Adjustable Rate Mortgage, or ARM. In a traditional mortgage, you and the lender would agree on an interest rate, which would govern how much extra you pay as you pay down the loan. This is known as a fixed mortgage.

With an ARM, interest rates start at a lower percentage than they would with a fixed mortgage, and rise over the life of the loan. The advantage of an ARM is that since rates are lower at the beginning, you can potentially buy a larger home than you would normally be able to afford.

However, this is also the danger of an ARM. If rates rise, especially if they rise rapidly, and your personal finances don’t keep pace, you can find yourself underwater. Be very careful when considering an ARM. In theory, a credit institution or mortgage broker issuing a loan is supposed to be protecting against loans you can’t afford, but that’s not always the case in reality.


Whether it be for your home, your automobile, your life, or any of a number of other reasons, you will probably need or want insurance. Insurance is a financial service most banks and credit institutions offer, and almost anything can be insured.

In Canada, it’s mandatory to have car insurance if you own and operate a vehicle. No other forms of insurance are mandatory, though some like home owner’s insurance are highly recommended.

Getting into the details of various insurance policies and types is the topic for an entire other article. For now, it’s worth noting that there are specialized insurance brokers who handle only insurance, as well as financial institutions who offer insurance in addition to other financial services. Shopping around for the best rates is a must.

Other Investments

In addition to basic banking, loans and insurance, there are a number of other financial services you might require at some point in your life. If you’re planning for retirement, you’ll likely need a series of investments with time for them to bear fruit.

In Canada, a wide range of banks, credit institutions and brokers exist, often tailored specifically to a given financial service. So, if you’re looking to invest in bonds or stocks, there are brokers out there who specialize in that particular service.

Or, you can use one institution as a one-stop-shop to handle all your investments, loans, insurance and basic banking services. There are pros and cons to each approach, and how much complexity you can tolerate can be the biggest factor in your choices.

As a basic rule, if you intend to invest heavily in a diversified portfolio, you’re probably better off looking into a specialized broker. These brokers can offer a customized service heavy on knowledge and information-sharing, and give you options that traditional financial institutions may not offer.

If, on the other hand, you are only going to lightly invest, or invest very simply, you may find it far simpler and less of a hassle to use your primary credit institution or bank as your broker in those investments.

Make sure to educate yourself on the fees that go along with any investment broker or institutions. A bare-bones service can increase your return on investment simply by not eating so much into the principle via heavy fees.

Tying it All Together

Regardless of the financial service you’re seeking, the Canadian market offers a dizzying assortment of options. From massive banks that offer nearly every financial service under one roof to specialized credit institutions and brokers who focus on a specific area, you’ll find a number of possible answers to any financial situations.

The biggest key to financial success is to shop around before making a final decision, and understand how the alternatives fit into your own personal situation. No one investment, credit institution, broker or any other financial institution is perfect for everyone – But there’s likely one that’s nearly perfect for your own situation, if you look hard enough.