April 7, 2022

Honourable senators, on March 22, the Associate Minister of Finance, Randy Boissonnault, announced that Abraham Tachjian will be the open banking lead in Canada. His task is to lead the creation of an open banking system that gives individuals greater control over their financial data and access to the benefits that those data can deliver. This is great news.

This week, Pollara Strategic Insights released a comprehensive survey examining how Canadians feel about traditional banking and newer financial technology products. Pollara found that 84% of small business owners and consumers feel that bank fees are too high, and more than half feel stressed when interacting with the banks. For marginalized Canadians, this stress can be even greater. Maybe that’s why more than two thirds of Canadians told Pollara that they think more competition will lead to greater product choices and lower fees. Of those who already use new financial technology products, 91% say they’re easy to use, 82% like the lower fees and 73% say these products help them save money.

By contrast, our big banks introduced fee increases mid-pandemic. For example, one bank’s chequing account transaction fees increased 56% –- from $1.25 to $1.95 per transaction –- but with no corresponding increase in service. Quite the opposite. The minimum deposit required to avoid paying these fees also jumped — from $2,000 to $5,000. This pricing policy disproportionately impairs the financial health of the already marginalized. It also really improves bank profits. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives just reported that the 2021 profits of the five big banks were 40% higher than their pre-pandemic average in 2018-19. That’s six times the rate of inflation. The five big bank CEOs saw, on average, a 23% increase in personal earnings in 2021. That’s almost four times the rate of inflation. In a few hours, the Government of Canada may impose an excess profits tax on the Canadian banks. My profound preference would instead be to accelerate and broaden regulatory reforms like open banking.

The reason is that markets work best when innovators — the makers of better mouse traps — are rewarded. Markets fail to serve citizens when regulatory moats protect incumbent businesses from that competition in ways that enable them to increase prices and profits while still selling the same old mouse trap.

Colleagues, as you may expect, I am thrilled about the implementation of open banking and the consumer-centric financial opportunities it will unlock, and also about the progress in the related areas of payment modernization and digital identity. There are challenges ahead, but we’re finally moving in the right direction.

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