Citizens Bank Review (British Columbian perspective)

I have banked with Citizens Bank for just under a year, and so far have been quite happy with my experience there.

It all started about a year ago when I graduated from school and was faced with the end of my ‘student’ account at one of the big banks. Although I had already been paying fees (about $3.50/month, which bought me almost no services), the non-student plans were even worse. I decided it was time to explore some no-fee account options. Here is how I decided on Citizens Bank:

I didn’t want to buy a membership to a bank

My first line of inquiries was around credit unions, which typically have good reputations for having better fee structures. Citizens Bank is very comparable to credit unions, but it is not actually a credit union and thus you do not have to buy shares.

I wanted a stable bank, where my funds were secure

Citizens Bank is an ‘online’ bank, however they do have one branch location in downtown Vancouver, which appeases any worries I have about not having any face-to-face customer services options. As well, they are owned by Vancity, which means that they have the backing of a larger group. Funds deposited at Citizens Bank are also covered by the CDIC.

I wanted no-fee accounts, with high rates, and overall flexibility

I was looking to have two accounts: a chequing / savings account and a high interest account. Citizens Bank had both of these, and the accounts are automatically connected. My only point of dissatisfaction with their accounts was that the chequing / savings account was not completely ‘fee free’ (like Coast Capital Savings) as you have to keep a minimum balance ($1000) to avoid fees. However, as has been recently announced, they will have a completely free chequing / savings account shortly. This has improved my satisfaction about 30%, as I found it unreasonable that they could not match the Coast Capital ‘no fee’ account. After all, Citizens Bank is an online bank, meaning that they save on overhead costs.

The high interest savings account has consistently offered one of the top interest rates all year, and is currently about .10% higher than other banks. This account could also in many instances be used as a chequing / savings account as you can make bill payments, and some debit transactions out of that account (although I still wanted a chequing / savings account).

The chequing / savings account has unlimited transactions, and you can use any ATM on THE EXCHANGE Network (which makes it extremely accessible, as there are many banks on that network, such as HSBC and almost all credit unions). I also got free cheques with the account, which most banks do not do — even Coast Capital). They have a very basic but functional online interface that allows for online banking with bill payments and transfers. I have found interfacing between the two accounts is completely seamless, with instant transfers.

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All these elements lead me to open my account with Citizens. I found the actual opening of the account relatively easy — I did do it in branch (because I didn’t have any cheques from my other bank), and the service in branch was good. If you have cheques you can open the account by mail.

Unexpected, value-added features

Since becoming a client, I have come to discover some unexpected, value-added features:

Transferring funds between other Citizens clients

You can transfer money to other Citizens account holders for free. This is a great paperless way to settle payments with others. There are many applications of this, including: paying rent; settling a tab with a friend; and buying something online.

Memorized accounts

I have only recently discovered this feature, and it makes the above mentioned item much easier to do. Basically, you can have the system save other account numbers for you, so if you frequently transfer funds to other people, you can save them as a ‘memorized account’. Once logged in, click the Member Services tab, then click the Manage Memorized Accounts link on the left, add an account, name it and presto. Later, when you transfer money to another Citizens Bank member, you can choose their account from the memorized list.

Memorized accounts dropdown list

Good customer service

I have occasionally had to phone their 1-800 number for customer support. I have always found the service to be very helpful, and very efficient. There is no 20-minute long phone tree or extended wait times; they pick up right away and provide good service. They are also open 24/7; you may be anxious about having a bank with only one branch, but it’s actually more accessible than most banks as you do not have to race to the branch before it closes. Whenever you have a problem, you can just call them up and receive quick service. This was one of my biggest complaints at my previous bank, as they were open so infrequently that I could almost never get service.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

Citizens is a bank you can feel good about banking with. They have great corporate social responsibility policies. For example, they set a goal to be carbon neutral as an organization, and they have achieved it ahead of schedule. You can read about how they did it here. As well, they have an annual campaign where bank clients can vote from a list of charities about where corporate donations will be made. Initiatives like these make you feel good about being aligned with the organization. Remember, money talks: if you are concerned about CSR you have to think about who you are storing your money with.

Areas for improvement

Online login

This is an issue I have only recently had as a complaint. Within the last 3 months they changed their online login system to add some new ‘security’ features. You now have to enter your personal password, view a secret picture, and a secret word. Then if you have not registered your computer, or are using a public computer, you have to answer questions which you previously filled the answers in for. I hate this system. I find it cumbersome and annoying. I believe there may be a time and a place for extended security when using public computers, but I never use public computers for accessing my banking data (the best security measure of all), and therefore would have much preferred if there was an opt-in/out feature on the new security measures. That way I would not have to endure the hassle every time I log in from home, but if I knew I would be traveling or potentially using other computers, I could turn that feature on. I also question exactly how much security it adds to your account, since if someone could hack in and determine your password, why couldn’t they hack in and replicate your secret picture/word etc.

No fee account

As mentioned above it really bothers me that you need a minimum account balance in order to waive fees. The fact that they are apparently getting rid of this is a huge improvement.

Paperless statements

When I first joined I signed up to not receive my paper statements. However, I still receive them, and can’t fully figure out why. My complaint on this issue, is not one actually specific to Citizens but to all companies that try and sign you up for paperless — why can’t an option be that they email you a link to your bill every month. I don’t want to have to remember every month that it’s time to go online and check it, then have to find where it is on the website etc — this whole ‘paperless’ thing would work much better if they would send you a link once a month.

Automatic credit limit

When I first opened my chequing / savings account with Citizens, they opened it with an automatic $1000 credit / overdraft approved. I did not want that, and I still don’t. This should be an opt-in/out feature. My main concern is security — if someone stole my debit card tomorrow, they could withdraw my funds plus the $1000 ‘credit’ which I would then be on the hook for. Second, this extra $1000 is shown in your balance, so it can be confusing sometimes as to exactly how much you have if you forget to mentally deduct that $1000. Third, I find this to be sneaky behaviour on their part, as this credit comes with an extremely high interest rate in comparison to their regular lines of credit. It makes you feel that they are trying to pull a fast one on you, because if you ever make a mistake and dip into that money, you will be charged a hefty fee for that. I would prefer to take the risk of having a cheque bounce than to have this pre-approved credit.

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Overall, I have been happy with the service, security, and money management of Citizens Bank. I would recommend this bank to anyone.


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8 thoughts on “Citizens Bank Review (British Columbian perspective)

  1. Craig says:

    Good job Julia.

    I once considered opening a savings account at Citizens, but being a resident of Southern Ontario, the idea of having to hop on a plane to resolve any issues that couldn’t be resolved over the phone didn’t seem particularly appealing. Still, I may reconsider my position in light of your review.

    The irritating login procedure you described is also in-place at ING Direct, and it looks like HSBC and others will be joining soon. I suspect this has more to do with the banks trying to fend off lawsuits than anything else.

  2. Leah Tse says:

    I also hold an ultimate savings account at Citizen’s and I love it. Not only are the rates great, but their customer service is my selling point. I definitely have more positive experiences phoning than negative, which is more than I can say about all my other banks. I have tried many online banks as well as regular banks and credit unions and I have been most satisfied with Citizen’s.

    I would also like to add that I like the security feature that Julia was discussing above that she didn’t like.

  3. Peter says:

    Last week I sent a message to Member Services to have my automatic line of credit removed. Today, I am happy to report that it has been removed! No more misleading account balances!

  4. brian says:

    Is citizensbank.ca associated with citizensbank.com. I have been looking on the net and the comments about citizensbank is NOT good. just wondering.

  5. @craig hello there! If you happen to review these comments, an fyi that this fall we’ll have a branch opened in Toronto. Meantime, we have a few staff people there to help open accounts “in the field” so to speak – Robin in particular would be happy to meet up with you. If you like, e-mail me at nancy underscore zimmerman at citizens bank dot canada (abbreviated).

  6. Jeff (soon to be Citizens-X-banker) says:

    Like Julia, I have been with Citizens for over a year – and although my initial experiences were favourable, they have quickly diminished.

    Julia’s report looks like an inside job.

    And I have learned the Global Chequing Account is certainly not free…shop around for foreign exchange before you leave or you will be stuck paying Citizens higher FX rates.

    http://www.highinterestsavings.ca/forum/citizens-bank/duped-citizens-bank-global-chequing-accountis-not-free

  7. xyzaaa says:

    Even managers are hanging up at Citizens’ customer service! Well, I understand they need their bonus so more fees on customers.

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