When it comes to retaining customers, few businesses have had it easier than Canada’s big six banks. According to a 2014 Google consumer survey, just 14 percent of Canadians changed banks in the past year. This type of sticky relationship is due in part to inertia – many of us become customers for life after opening our first bank account, and the very idea of switching banks is too much of a hassle to even consider.

Related: Does your bank deserve your loyalty?

That’s not to say the big banks have earned that kind of loyalty. TD recently hiked fees on its chequing accounts and increased the minimum balance needed to waive those fees. Not to be outdone, BMO announced similar changes that take effect May 1st, 2015.

350 Reasons to Switch Banking

I can be loyal to a degree, but not to a fault. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a great deal, and I’m not afraid to shake-up my daily routine in order to take advantage of a sweet promotion.

It’s been years since I’ve made a drastic banking change, but earlier this month I saw a promotion that not only made me take notice, it made me take action:

ATB Financial offered $350 cash to open a chequing account.

I let that sink in for a while and considered my options. Then I remembered that a co-worker banked with ATB and so I quizzed him on his banking relationship. He not only gave the bank a positive review, he was able to take advantage of the promotion as well – collecting $150 cash for referring me to ATB.

Convinced that I made a great decision, I called up the closest ATB branch that afternoon and made an appointment to open an account. Once I got to the branch, it took about 25 minutes to get everything set up – including online banking and getting a debit card.

I chose the basic account, which costs $3.95 per month and includes 15 transactions. An added bonus is access to ATB’s new TrackIt money management tool that allows you to pull all of your bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and even gift cards into one place so you can see your balances and spending. It’s like Mint.com, but without the potential of violating your banking agreement.

Related: Take a day off work to fix your finances

To take advantage of the $350 promotional offer I had to add direct deposit or set-up two automatic preauthorized payments with the first ones charged through the new account by July 31, 2015.

What is typically a pain-point for many customers was actually quite simple. At the end of the meeting, I was handed a direct deposit form with the new account information listed. I could take that to my employer to switch my payroll, and/or use it to set-up the preauthorized payments.

Tip: ATB also has a free service called eSwitch that does all the legwork for you.

I chose the preauthorized payment route and picked two bills that don’t offer the option to pay by credit card: Enmax, for natural gas and electricity, and Wawanesa for car insurance. The Enmax pre-authorization was literally changed online in seconds, while switching the car insurance payment simply required an email to my broker with the new account information. Done and done.

Once the preauthorized payments have gone through for three consecutive months then I’ll get $350 and my co-worker will get $150.

Final thoughts

Banks will have to get more creative in order to preserve customer loyalty with changing demographics and an increasingly competitive landscape. Indeed, the Gen-Yer’s surveyed were 1.5 times more likely to change banks or consider changing banks as the rest of the population.

Related: What’s in your wallet?

The bottom line for consumers is that your loyalty shouldn’t come free. Don’t be complacent and just blindly accept bad service or annual fee increases without shopping around from time-to-time to compare what’s available. You might be surprised to find a great deal waiting for you.

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10 Comments

  1. Michael James on March 19, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    If I compare your new account to Tangerine, you get $300 more to sign up, but pay $3.95 per month more and collect no interest. Sounds like it would take a while to consume that extra $300 unless you start making more than 15 transactions per month.

    • Echo on March 19, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      It’s true – just over six years to be precise. I also told my brother in-law about the promotion earlier this week. He was looking to move away from BMO and this was just the ticket. He said he’d use me as a referral, so if that goes through it means another $150 bonus. Definitely a profitable venture.

  2. Kurt on March 20, 2015 at 6:13 am

    I’ve moved banks for tablets, iPods, and now cash. I went with the “Pay as you go” checking account. $0.65 per transaction. I’m running my rental property through this account. The mortgage and insurance payment got me my two auto transactions. My tenants company pays his rent and that is direct deposit so I’ve got all the bases covered. I was impressed enough with how I was treated to consider switching the rest of my banking over, but that seems like a lot of work.

    • Echo on March 20, 2015 at 7:53 am

      Hi Kurt, I was under the impression that the pay-as-you-go account wasn’t eligible for the $350 promotion? Good for you if you managed to swing it.

      I don’t think it’s too difficult to switch all of your banking. I’d just run with two bank accounts for a few months until all the pre-authorizations moved over. If you look at that eSwitch link it seems fairly straightforward and ATB will take care of pretty much everything for you.

  3. Shayne on March 20, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    I signed up for this as well but I chose the unlimited account or something like that. Fees are $20 or so a month but a $5000 balance takes care of that.

    A bonus it that it covers the $120 yearly fee on my Mastercard. Now I don’t have to call once a year and jump through the hoops to get that fee reduced. Not a bad deal overall.

  4. Rebecca on March 21, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Last year my husband and I switched away from a bank that was charging us about $170/year to have a chequing account with them, to a bank that has no fees and relatively high interest rates on the savings accounts.
    I am very happy that we switched, because we don’t have to pay any fees if we don’t have a minimum amount in our chequing account, can view cashed cheques for free, and also earn points through using our debit or credit card with them. I agree – sometimes it’s easy to just stay with the same bank because you’ve always been there or they are nice people at the counter – but it may actually cost you quite a bit in the long run!

  5. Kitstownie on March 21, 2015 at 9:13 am

    To far a drive from Vancouver.

  6. Sandy on March 21, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Awwww too bad I live in Vancouver and can’t take advantage of this promotion!

  7. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist on March 21, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    That’s a mighty fine offer. I’m not a fan of paying fees. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for offers like this though. I’ve been a happy PC Financial customer for 10 years, but I may switch if something else comes up.

  8. tommi on April 1, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    have been a haapy PRESIDENTS CHOICE BANK customer forever. U get free everything. And I probably get $20 to $40 in free groceries per month

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