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Ranking the Credit Card Portfolios of Each Canadian Financial Institutions (updated December 21, 2021)

It has been just over a year since our last update (December 1, 2020) of the rankings list. The timing works well to update again this month, since we are coming to the end of the year. Now we get a snapshot of 2021, as we head into 2022.

Note that these are my personal rankings of each financial institution, along with a commentary which will reflect what happened in the past year. Last time’s ranking are in brackets, along with a select few of our top credit card picks for each company. You will notice that all ranking changes occurred below the top 10.

1) American Express (AMEX) (no change)

AMEX continues to stay in first place mostly due to its diverse and numerous high quality choices. For example, they offer the valuable American Express Membership Rewards program, as well as teaming up with Air Canada’s Aeroplan and Marriot Bonvoy who both offer highly valuable rewards programs. Also, Air Miles has recently stepped up their game. To top it off, AMEX offers the strongest selection of business cards. It will not be easy for any company to dethrone them at the moment.

2) Toronto Dominion (TD) / MBNA (no change)

TD had a pretty standstill year, with no significant changes. If anything, Scotiabank (just below them) gained ground on them. At the moment, the MBNA portfolio, more specifically the Alaska Airlines card, is really carrying the load for the entire portfolio which gives them the edge over Scotiabank.

3) Scotiabank / Tangerine (no change)

This year, Scotiabank really stepped up their game and closed the gap with TD. Scotiabank fully integrated the Scene+ program into their major cards. Furthermore Scene+ expanded its rewards options to include travel, which made it a lot more valuable. Next, I hope to see Scene+ offer a transferrable points option to airline frequent flyer and/or hotel loyalty programs.

  • Scotiabank GM Infinite Visa Card
  • Scotiabank Momentum Infinite Visa
  • Scotia Momentum Business Visa Card
  • Scotiabank Scene Visa Card
  • Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
  • Scotiabank American Express Platinum Credit Card
  • Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
  • Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Business Card
  • Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
  • Tangerine World MasterCard

4) Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) (no change)

Royal Bank has been consistently (i.e. very little change) offering a very competitive and diverse credit card portfolio. I find they fly under the radar as they are not a flashy company like their 3 competitors above them. They firmly hold fourth place by offering the valuable Avion program, as well as strong airline partners (British Airways, WestJet, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific). It is also worth mentioning that they do not have a co-branded Petro-Canada credit card, but they have fully integrated the Petro-Canada program for cardholders to triple dip: earn regular rewards with designated card, earn extra bonus Petro-Canada points and get 3 cents off per litre on fuel. All in all, they are far ahead of CIBC, who are just below them.

5) Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce / Simplii Financial (CIBC) (no change)

Even though CIBC is currently in 5th place, mostly due to its partnership with Aeroplan, they are far from RBC above and HSBC is close below them. I would love to see CIBC expand its Aventura program to make it more valuable. Ideally they would offer transferrable points program like they used to be when we can convert to Aeroplan. RBC and HSBC both already have a transferrable points program, so CIBC would just be keeping up. Note that CIBC partners with Journie Rewards to offer a double dipping opportunity, where CIBC cardholders can receive 3 cents off per litre of fuel, along with earning regular rewards tied to their designated card.

6) HSBC (no change)

HSBC is the company that really stepped up their game over the past few years. They climbed the most ranks since we first started back in 2016 when they were in 13th place. Moreover, there was far less competition back then too, 16 instead of now 23 institutions. Since they are not considered one of the major banks in Canada and they are not a primary credit card company like American Express, HSBC are considered an underdog to me. Personally, I am cheering for HSBC to knock someone out of the top 5 and take their place. Their transferrable points program is what sets them apart, with three highly valuable partners: British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.

7) Bank of Montreal (BMO) (no change)

Last year, BMO closed out 2020 with a strong new card in the eclipse Visa, but have cooled off in 2021. They round out my top 7, which I feel are credit card companies that have really set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. So the goal of the rest of the companies below is to crack my top 7 rankings. That being said, BMO has quite a bit of work to do if they want to climb above. BMO is too dependent on their own cash back and points program, along with Air Miles (only third party partnership). Their current reward options are not diverse or valuable enough to compete with the top 6.

As mentioned in my BMO entry, from the 8th position onward, there is a major drop-off. It would take a significant boost (like what HSBC did with its transferrable points program) to really break into the top 7 or to expand the group into a Big 8. HSBC grew my top 6 into 7. So if one company can do it, another one can do it too. For now, these entities are consider “the rest”.

8) President’s Choice Financial (PC Financial) (no change)

First, we have PC Financial who is under the same umbrella as PC Optimum, a highly valuable loyalty program in Canada. They are part of the same parent company Loblaws, so there is no middle person involved (e.g. American Express offering Air Canada Aeroplan, as two completely separate companies partnering up). As a result, they can offer a more competitive card, which is why I consider them the “best of the rest”! The World Elite version of their offers lots of features and benefits for a no annual fee card.

9) Canadian Tire Bank (no change)

Is it just me or did the stay at home order in the past year and a half in Canada made Canadian Tire a more popular store? Canadians spending more time at home and in their yards, is probably playing a factor in their strong sales?

Either way, I used to think that Canadian Tire should just team up with an established credit card company to offer a co-branded credit card instead. However, they have been expanding their banking services with Canadian Tire Bank, it definitely makes more sense for them to keep their card internally (similar to PC Financial mentioned above). The Canadian Tire credit cards are considered hidden gems to me as their credit cards offer great value if you shop frequently at Canadian Tire’s partner stores.

10) National Bank (last time 12)

National Bank is probably my top pick who can potentially break out from “the rest” and compete with the top 7 companies. They have the financial resources to do so, but they will need to make some bold moves. For example, I am really hoping that they find a way to team up with a major airline or hotel chain to offer a co-branded credit card.

For now, I decided to move National Bank up a couple of spots. The World Elite card has some decent value that sets them apart from the competition below.

11) Rogers Bank (last time 10)

As mentioned last time, I decided to drop Rogers Bank this time around due to their devaluations. When Rogers Bank first launched in Canada, they offered some highly competitive cards, especially for foreign purchases. Since then, the competition has caught up, along with their devaluations. Unfortunately, I am more worried about Rogers going backwards rather than forward.

12) Brim Financial (last time 11)

With Rogers’ fall (mentioned above), Brim Financial has emerged as a possible alternative for foreign purchases. However, due to their annual fees (Rogers has no annual fees), I cannot put Brim Financial higher than Rogers at the moment. That being said, HSBC and Scotiabank currently have better options for foreign purchases, so Brim has lots of catching up to do overall.

13) Desjardins (last time tied at 12)

I am a little torn on where to put Desjardins, as they can easily be in 11th or 12th place. The reason I dropped them to 13 is because they do not offer product that is attractive to all Canadians, only valuable to Quebec residents (comparatively speaking). That being said, Desjardins does have the potential and resources to really step it up, just like National Bank (see above). So I am looking forward to what they have in the works, as we can see they have been expanding their reach across the country.

14) Walmart Financial (no change)

By now, you are probably noticing a trend with retailers such as Loblaws (PC Financial), Canadian Tire Bank and Rogers Bank who are all offering in-house credit cards. Walmart is no different. The reason that Walmart is not ranked higher is because they do not have a full blown loyalty program like PC Optimum and Canadian Tire Triangle. They are more like Rogers who offer a cash back option, but with slightly less value in their cards. Granted Walmart has come a long way from last place when we first started the rankings.

  • Walmart Rewards MasterCard
  • Walmart World Rewards MasterCard

15) Neo Financial (NEW)

Neo Financial is the newest company to our list. In addition to their partnership with Hudson’s Bay, they are currently trying to compete in the cash back game with some creative cash back offers of 4%, 5% and 6%. There are a few reasons why they are not ranked higher at the moment, namely because even though they have a no annual fee version of their card, they do offer cards that have opt in and out fees for cardholders to earn more bonus cash back (i.e. the 5% and 6% options). They are off to a decent start for being new to the industry, so I am hoping to see upgrades to their cards and potentially climb the rankings from there.

=16) Manulife Bank (last time tied at 15)

You will notice that the next 3 companies offer some very similar credit cards. They are so interchangeable that I can barely tell the difference. One of these 3 companies have an opportunity to break out. I do not have much to say about them because they all offer several credit card options, but no one card really stands out. Therefore, probably their main target market are people who have other products with them.

=16) Meridian (last time tied at 15)

This may seem lazy, but please see the entry for Manulife Bank mentioned just above since there is nothing more to add.

=16) Alterna Savings (last time 19)

Ditto, see above (instead of copy pasting)!

19) Laurentian Bank (last time 18)

Laurentian Bank changed their business model significantly in the last 24 months to reduce the amount of in person presence to eventually entirely online only. This strategic move can potentially work in their favour. I would also love to see them offer a credit card with the B2B bank arm. For now, they are full of potential, but nothing much more.

20) Home Trust (last time tied at 20)

They offer a 1% cach back, no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee card. This single product can only take them so far. Unfortunately for Home Trust, the competition on waived foreign transaction fees is pretty stiff compared to when they first entered the market. Now they will need to make a bolder move to stand out as they initially did.

21) Capital One (last time 17)

Capital One has been the exact opposite story of HSBC. Would you believe that Capital One started off in 6th place (i.e. HSBC’s current position). Back then, Capital One had such a competitive line of products, they were my favourite credit card company hands down (yes… even more than AMEX). But a complete reversal happened and now they look like they are on life support since their break up with Costco. For now, they are mostly focused on their niche market of secure credit cards. At this point, I am wondering if they will have the same fate as Chase Canada. The reason they do not rank any lower is because they are a good option for people looking to build their credit score.

22) Plastk (NEW)

Plask is another new company being added to our list. They are pretty much in direct competition with Capital One mentioned above in the secure credit card market. For the moment, Capital One offers more options, which is why they ranked higher. But I think that Plask has the potential to overtake Capital One in due time, especially with Capital One hanging by a thread. Since Plask is still new to the industry, I am mostly looking forward to what more they have to offer in the near future. In the meantime, they have some net features built into their secure cards that focus on helping to monitor and track credit scores.

23) ICICI Bank (last time tied at 20)

I did have ICICI Bank tied with Home Trust last time around. But I had some time to think about it, decided to move them down further. Even though they do offer one no annual fee product, the returns are dismal. And their annual fee version of their card does not fair much better. I hope to see something more creative on their end in the near future!

So there you have it, our rankings for 2021. Do you agree with the rankings above? Did we miss anything? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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