Money: International Banking

By David Nickle

Banking in Canada is not only controlled by Canadian-owned banks. For newcomers there are many other choices – including banks that have international reach.

Doing business with one of those banks has advantages – particularly if that bank has branches in their home country.

ICICI Bank of India, for example, offers special home mortgage loan packages to non-resident Indians, (NRI). ICICI and others make it simpler to maintain accounts in their countries' currency, transfer money and other assets back and forth between Canada and their country of origin and many other useful services.
But size is important. HSBC Bank Canada (formerly the Hongkong Bank of Canada) maintains offices in 77 countries and territories and is one of the largest banks in the world. HSBC Bank Canada is the seventh-largest financial institution in Canada.

Joey Sit, Senior Vice President (Ontario) for HSBC Bank Canada, said that reach can help newcomers.

“If you think of new immigrants trying to set up banking relationships in Canada you can see that we have a unique advantage,” says Sit. “It's about our global network. If they are in their home country they can approach our local branch there and set up an account in Canada at their choice of location – even before they land here.”

The bank has many services that help newcomers in Canada – although most of those services are for customers who come here already having done business with the HSBC in their home country.

For example, VIP customers can be assigned a relationship manager – a bank employee who will help them get started in Canada financially.

“And anyone coming here and trying to maintain ties to their home country will have an easier time because we are represented here and there,” he said. The HSBC will also manage accounts in six different currencies – something that he said is very popular with newcomers.

Of all the Canadian-owned banks, ScotiaBank is the most international in scope. Scotiabank has 2,000 branches in more than 50 countries in five regions: North America, Euope and the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia and Central and South America.

That lets Scotiabank offer what is known as Correspondent Banking, a service making it easier to transfer funds between countries where the bank has branches.
ING Direct is another major international bank that operates in Canada. But it is very different than the others. It does not have bank branches that customers can walk into. Since the Dutch-owned bank started operating in Canada in 1997, ING Direct has been marketing itself as a direct savings bank that pays higher interest on savings than other banks, does not charge high fees and offers lower mortgage rates than others.

The key thing is we're a direct savings bank,” says Fabrice de Dongo, ING Direct's spokesperson. “For that very reason we're not a traditional bank – we don't have chequing accounts.”

ING Direct operates in Australia, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. The bank uses the telephone and the Internet for most of its transactions. But de Dongo says that its main job is not to make a lot of transactions happen, but to help people save money.

“The question is in the current environment - how do you move from an environment where there is a lot of spending going on on the debt side – how do you fight that in a way that enables people to save?”

To do that, ING Direct pushes plans to help its customer gather money for later. De Dongo said that might be helpful to newcomers, but ING Direct believes it is helpful for all Canadians.

“What we try to do is give you the conditions to help you better plan for your financial future – we try to show ways to do it through our mortgages that let you pay off your home sooner. The whole point is not to end up paying a mortgage altogehter. It is owning a home. For us the emphasis is making sure that dream becomes a reality.”

These are only a few of the international banks operating in Canada. The Bank of Cyprus, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubichi, Credit Suisse First Boston Canada, Deutsche Bank AG (Canada), The International Bank of Cathay and the State Bank of India are just a few others.

CNM