Calling for Common Sense & Fairness


Why CUA believes "bank" shouldn't be a four-letter word

July 14, 2017

Dear members and friends of CUA: 

By now, you have likely seen or heard media coverage related to credit unions and our future ability to use the common terms “bank”, “banker” or “banking” to describe the activities of our business.  I am writing to you to outline this issue as it affects CUA and our ability to serve future members and the broader community. 


Credit unions have been using these words in phrases such as “to bank”, “mobile banking” and “online banking” for decades without incident or any indication of concern.  Prior to Canada’s 150th birthday, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), the federal bank regulator, issued a blunt advisory on the Government of Canada website, stating their intention to enforce a provision in the federal Bank Act that restricts the terms “bank”, “banker” and banking”.  Not only does this century-old provision fail to reflect common language and the modern world, it will negatively impact more than 280 credit unions across Canada who serve 5.6 million Canadians.

As outlined in the advisory, OSFI has directed credit unions (described as non-bank entities) to remove the use of these words from all communications including websites, mobile apps, social media, print materials and signage. 

Why the sudden change and the apparent need to police words in the dictionary?  The Federal Government and OSFI have provided no explanation, despite our requests for this information. 

It simply doesn’t make sense.   

Principle of Common Sense

This is about common sense.  “Bank” and “banking” are common terms to describe banking activity.  The words are recognized across the globe in almost every language and people understand what “banking” is from a very early age.  Looking up the definition of “bank” or “banking” in a dictionary will result in general language such as:  A financial institution licensed to receive deposits and make loans; or, an institution for receiving, lending, exchanging and safeguarding money and, in some cases, issuing notes and transacting other financial business.

CUA offers chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, loans and lines of credit, financial advice, investments and more.  We do our business via branches, ATMs, online banking, financial advisors, a mobile banking app and over the phone. 

When asked, OSFI could not come up with any words to replace “bank”, “banking” or banker”.  The reason why they have no response is there aren’t any logical words.  As I mentioned in one media interview last week, does “online banking” become “online creditunioning”?  Ridiculous - and try saying that seven times in a row!

The bottom line is simple:  You can do your banking with CUA.

Principles of Fairness

One of the first questions from a member was why should a select group of companies be allowed to own words in the dictionary.  Great question.  Think about it:  Imagine if McDonald’s was forced to stop using the word “hamburger”; or, what if McDonald’s was the only restaurant allowed to use the word?  There would be an outcry from competitors and consumers would be scratching their heads wondering why such an unfair and nonsensical decision was made.  When someone searches for “Restaurants in Halifax” on Google, they are searching for food.  When someone searches for “Banks in Halifax”, they are searching for banking products and services.  Consumers have a right to know of their options – all of them – not just a handful of service providers that fall on the right side of a century-old rule. 

That’s what makes this about fairness – it’s not only unfair to handcuff credit unions from connecting with consumers, it’s also unfair to shield consumers from knowing their options with mere semantics.  This entire move is contrary to what is in the best interest of Canadians, and we are strongly opposing the Federal Government’s position. 

Why this is important to us

Established in 1948, CUA is one of the largest credit unions in Atlantic Canada, serving more than 20,000 members primarily in the Halifax region.  We deliver flexible products, personalized service and a commitment to responsive decisions.  Our customers do their banking with us knowing that we operate with their best interests in mind. 

We know we’re not a federal bank.  We do banking – better.  We offer a better way to bank.

Over the past week, we have heard from many members who share our concerns saying, “I know you’re not a bank – that’s exactly why I bank with you!”  Unfortunately, even though our members know we are a full service financial institution, research and studies have shown that the vast majority of Canadians do not know credit unions are an alternative full-service banking option. 

In 2016, CRA’s Urban Report found that less than 3% of residents in the Halifax region named CUA or Credit Union Atlantic when asked to identify financial institutions that came to mind.  To continue growing our business to benefit our members, our community and the local economy, we need to communicate with banking consumers in a language they know and understand. 

OSFI’s position is that Canadians will be better protected or will better understand the financial services industry if credit unions are prohibited from using these words and phrases.  This is simply untrue.  Forcing credit unions to create alternate words and phrases for “online banking” and “mobile banking” will create confusion in the marketplace by speaking in a language no one uses nor understands.  This lack of clarity will not only harm individuals and small businesses who would be better served by credit unions, it will severely compromise our ability to grow in this extraordinarily competitive landscape.  

CUA's Recent Activities

The CUA Team is passionate about this issue.  We have our members’ best interests in mind and are not giving up.  We have been working with our national trade association, the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), in addition to other credit unions on this important issue. 

We are also actively engaging government representatives in this dialogue.  I had the opportunity to speak with a number of provincial Members of Parliament (MPs), including The Honourable Scott Brison and Andy Fillmore.  Close to 100 CUA employees have personally signed a letter addressed to The Honourable William Morneau, Minister of Finance, lending their voice in support of fairness and common sense.  We have meetings scheduled with provincial MPs over the next month and have engaged with elected officials at the Provincial level to gain their support.

We will continue to advocate on this issue as the principles underlying this matter deserve our utmost attention.  In the coming days and weeks, you’ll see and hear more from us on this important issue.

Get Involved 

We encourage you to get involved as we continue to press for common sense and fairness.  Here are ways for you to lend your support:

          1. Tweet about the issue on Twitter using the hashtag #IBANKwithacreditunion.
          2. Contact your local MLA here and/or MP here to make them aware of your thoughts on the issue.
          3. Send us your thoughts on the issue to and lend your voice to our efforts.
          4. Encourage your friends, colleagues, and personal network to consider CUA for their banking needs.

If you have questions that are not addressed above, please email me at I will happily speak with you directly about this issue and how we can work together to advocate common sense for the common good.

A sincere thanks for choosing CUA and for your support. 

Your CEO,

Marie T. Mullally