Watch your language or pay the fine, federal regulator tells credit unions

Canadian credit unions will have until December to remove the words “bank,” “banker” and “banking” from their websites.

A century-old regulation being enforced, meaning credit unions can't offer 'banking services'

Only large banks, like these featured here, will be able to use the word "bank" or "banking" after the government decided to enforce a century-old regulation. (Canadian Press)

For some, "bank" is becoming a four-letter word.

Canadian credit unions will have until December to remove the words "bank," "banker" and "banking" from their websites.

They'll have another two years to remove the word from all signs and marketing brochures as the federal government cracks down on any institution that offers traditional banking services.
Credit unions across the country are being forced by the federal government to eliminate the use of the word 'banking' from their websites. (www.sudburycu.com)

The regulation that governs who, or what, can use the word in embedded in the Bank Act of Canada from 1871. It's just never been enforced, at least until now.

In a posting on Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions website, it said the reason for the restriction is that it has noticed an increase in the use of the words "bank," "banker" and "banking" by non-bank financial service providers.​

"You have to laugh. What else are you going to do?" Mimi Regimbal, CEO of Sudbury Credit Union said.

"It's not like it's a new regulation, but now suddenly it's become 'you can't do that anymore.'"

The banks' point of view

"Allowing non-banks to use banking-related words (e.g. bank, banker and banking) could mislead consumers into believing that they are dealing with a federally regulated bank that is subject to protections and obligations created by the federal banking framework," a federal finance official said in an email to CBC News.

But Regimbal said that credit unions have similar regulations in place, especially as it relates to deposit insurance.

"When a credit union is quite clearly a credit union but also using that language, the consumer, the member knows they're dealing with a credit union, and not a bank," she said.
Mimi Regimbal, CEO of Sudbury Credit Union, says credit unions will all be forced to remove "mobile banking," "online banking" and "personal banker" from their websites by December. (Casey Stranges CBC)

By December Sudbury Credit Union will have to change its website to comply with the rules. That means no more button for "mobile banking," no links to "personal banking," and members won't be able to consult with a "personal banker."

The penalties for not complying haven't been set out yet, but Regimbal said there's no plans to protest the decision.

"We are hoping that common sense will prevail," Regimbal said. "The credit union has been working to lobby for this to not be enforced, but so far that has not been successful."

Regimbal estimates the costs across the country to make the changes hover around $80 million.

With files from Markus Schwabe and Carolyn Ray

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