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Published June 30, 2022

Big 5 or Big 6? Here’s The Full List of Canada’s Big Banks

Canada’s largest financial institutions are often called the "Big Five." But references to the "Big Six" have become common. Which one is right?

Canada’s banking sector is home to more than thirty Schedule 1, or domestically owned banks.[1] 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.[2]

Here are the Big Five banks ranked in terms of net revenue at the end of 2021:

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.

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About the Author

Clay Jarvis

Clay Jarvis is NerdWallet’s mortgage and real estate expert in Canada. Thus far, his entire professional writing career has revolved around real estate. Prior to joining NerdWallet, he was the editor and senior writer for four publications, including the leading website for the country’s mortgage industry, Mortgage Broker News. Clay has written 30,000-word examinations of Canada’s real estate investment market, interviewed the industry’s most powerful leaders and analysts, and has helped choose both the nation’s top realtors and mortgage brokers. He is based in Toronto, Ontario.


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