Canada’s banking sector is home to more than thirty Schedule 1, or domestically owned banks. But the ones that get the most attention are the Big Five.
Or is it the Big Six?
Chances are you’ve come across both terms when discussing Canada’s largest financial institutions. Technically, both are right, so whether you’re a fiver or a sixer, there’s no shame being doled out here.
But if you’re curious about why the two terms exist, we’ve got you covered.
The Big 5: The biggest of Canada’s big banks
When people refer to the Big Five, they really do mean the five largest banks in Canada.
How these banks stack up against each other can fluctuate based on how they’re being ranked — by earnings, total assets, or market capitalization — but the Big Five tend to dwarf all other Canadian banks in every major category. The members of the group haven’t changed for decades.
Here are the Big Five banks ranked in terms of net revenue at the end of 2021:
- Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) — $49.69 billion
- Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) — $42.69 billion
- Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) – $31.25 billion
- Bank of Montreal (BMO) — $27.19 billion
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) — $20.02 billion
One thing you’ll notice is that each of the Big Five has a major national presence. That can’t be said for the institution that gets included in the Big Six.
The Big 6: Adding a major regional bank to the mix
When people talk about Canada’s Big Six banks, they’re including National Bank of Canada, which focuses primarily on servicing Quebec and New Brunswick.
Despite being a regional player, National Bank is technically the country’s sixth-largest bank. But, while it does rake in billions in annual revenue, those earnings are a fraction of what any of the Big Five generate.
Including National Bank in a discussion of Canada’s biggest banks is accurate, but it’s also a nod to the idea that a bank doesn’t need to be headquartered in Toronto to be taken seriously. (National Bank’s home base is Montreal.)
So whether you use the term “Big Five” or “Big Six” to refer to Canada’s financial behemoths, you’re right either way. The only difference is that “Big Six” is a little more inclusive — and maybe a tad generous where National Bank is concerned.
It might not be the kind of knowledge that’ll fix your finances, but now that you know why both terms exist, you could have a microscopic edge over the competition the next time you’re involved in a very boring trivia night.
Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, "Schedule 1 Domestic Banks in Canada," accessed June 28, 2022.
New York Times, "In Canadian Banking, Big Five Dominate the Action (1977)," accessed June 28, 2022.
Wikipedia, "Big Five Banks of Canada," accessed June 28, 2022.