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What Newcomers Should Know About Canada’s Financial Ecosystem


Published February 16, 2024 • 7 Min Read

Canada is renowned for its stable, reliable, and efficient financial system. In fact, Canada ranks second in the G7 on the competitiveness of its financial system. According to Global Finance Magazine 2022, Canada is also home to six of the world’s 50 safest and most dependable banks.

As a newcomer to Canada, understanding the country’s banking and financial environment can play a crucial role in your long-term success. To begin with, you must learn about the different types of financial institutions as well as the products and services they offer. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the types of bank accounts, the importance of credit in Canada’s economy, and the process of filing income taxes.

Bank of Canada: The key financial authority

The Bank of Canada is Canada’s central bank. According to the Bank of Canada Act, the bank’s role is to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada. To achieve this objective, Bank of Canada is responsible for:

  • The monetary policy framework and the supply of money in circulation, including setting the prime interest rate.

  • The safety and efficiency of the financial system, within and outside Canada.

  • The design, issuance, and distribution of bank notes.

  • Public debt programs and foreign exchange reserves.

  • The supervision of payment service providers.

Types of financial institutions in Canada

There are three key categories of financial institutions in Canada:

1. Banking institutions

Banking institutions allow customers to deposit money, make withdrawals, and get credit or loans.

Canada also has some digital-only banks which don’t have any physical branches. However, digital-only banks may not offer the full range of banking services.

Credit unions are another type of banking institution. Unlike banks, credit unions are smaller and provincially regulated (This means that they are usually only found in a single province). These institutions are typically “owned” by members or account holders and run by a board of community members. Due to their smaller presence, credit unions tend to have fewer branches and ATMs than banks.

Other examples of banking institutions include trust companies and standalone mortgage companies. Trust companies can act on behalf of individuals or businesses for the management and transfer of assets to another party. On the other hand, mortgage companies specialize in real estate financing, a service that may also be offered by large banks.

2. Insurance companies

Insurance entities sell insurance products to protect customers from losses incurred in certain unforeseen situations. Commonly sold insurance policies include tenant insurance, home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, and illness and injury insurance.

When you purchase an insurance policy, you pay a periodic premium based on the types and value of losses your policy covers. You can then make a claim when a covered loss arises. Some insurance policies require you to pay an out-of-pocket deductible for eligible expenses and the insurance company only pays the remainder amount.

3. Investment companies

Investment organizations include investment banks, hedge funds, and brokerage firms. These companies specialize in managing funds on behalf of individual and corporate investors. Their services typically include investing money, managing portfolios, record keeping, and providing financial and tax advice.

The taxation agency: Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

The Canada Revenue Agency administers and enforces taxation laws at both federal and provincial levels in Canada, with the exception of Quebec. In addition to personal income taxes, CRA also administers sales and excise taxes.

CRA also administers benefits programs, including GST/HST credits, Canada Child Benefit (CCB), Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and more.

As a newcomer, you can create a myCRA account after you file your first Canadian tax return. The CRA website will provide you with your tax documents, RRSP contribution limit, receipts for government benefits, and more.

The importance of credit in Canada

The Canadian and U.S. economies are largely driven by credit. Credit essentially means funds borrowed from a financial institution. In Canada, for example, most people use credit cards for day-to-day transactions and repay the money to the bank later, once the billing cycle ends.

Every time you take and repay credit, your financial institution shares certain information with Canada’s credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion. This information is then used to build your Canadian credit history.

Although you may have had a credit history in your home country, in most cases, foreign credit histories do not get transferred to Canada. Newcomers may need to build their credit history from scratch in Canada and the fastest way to do that is to get and use a credit card and pay off your balance.

Your credit score is a numerical representation of the health of your credit history and is a good way for you (and for lenders) to assess your financial situation. When you apply for credit, in the form of a credit card, loan, or mortgage, your bank will check your credit history to determine how likely you are to repay the debt. You may also need a good credit score to rent a home or qualify for certain jobs, such as those in the financial industry.

How does banking work in Canada?

As a newcomer, you may need to visit a branch in person or speak with an Advisor over a video call to open your bank account. Subsequently, you can conduct most of your banking transactions, including money transfers, at a branch, through phone banking, or online through internet banking or a mobile app. If you wish to withdraw or deposit cash, you can do so at an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) or branch.

Having a trusted financial advisor at your bank, someone who is familiar with the unique financial needs and goals of newcomers and can help you identify the banking products and services that will be the best fit for you, can greatly ease your transition to life in Canada. This is why RBC has dedicated Newcomer Advisors for guidance you can trust.

How do investments work in Canada?

While funds stored in your savings account are readily accessible and earn some interest, funds that are invested into other assets may potentially generate higher future returns on a long enough timeline.

As a new investor in Canada, you can also take advantage of registered plans that offer certain tax advantages. These plans, such as Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), First Home Savings Accounts (FHSA), Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP), and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) can hold a variety of savings and investment products and can help you save for your long-term goals.

Many investment products involve some degree of risk, as the value of the asset (investment) you purchase may fluctuate over time, based on market conditions, demand, and performance expectations. It is recommended you speak with a trusted financial advisor when deciding on an investment strategy.

How to make money transfers in Canada?

Domestic peer-to-peer payments may include sending or receiving money to and from friends, co-workers, or certain regular service providers. Most Canadians use Interac e-transfers for such payments and you can initiate Interac e-transfers through internet banking or your RBC app.

If you want to send money to a recipient in a different country, you can send an international money transfer through your bank.

There are other money transfer services as well, such as peer-to-peer services like PayPal or Wise, wire services like Western Union, and currency exchange businesses. However, be sure to confirm the service charges and exchange rates offered before initiating any international transactions.

To prevent criminal activity including money laundering and terror financing, large international transactions (over $10,000) are tracked and reported to Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

You can connect with an RBC Newcomer Advisor or browse through RBC’s newcomer-specific offers to determine the ideal financial product mix for your initial months and years in Canada.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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Banking/ Digital banking