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Regulatory framework

Key policies

What are the principal governmental and regulatory policies that govern the banking sector?

Canada has a centrally regulated banking system with a focus on macroprudential regulation and stability of the financial system. The Bank Act, the principal federal statute governing all aspects of banking, indicates its main purposes as:

  • fostering a strong and efficient banking sector comprising competitive and resilient institutions;
  • protecting the interests of depositors and consumers; and
  • maintaining stability and public confidence in the financial system.

The Bank of Canada (the central bank) exercises a monetary policy focusing on an inflation-control target of around 2 per cent and a policy of non-intervention in a flexible foreign exchange rate.

Canada is a strong supporter of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and has been a leading jurisdiction in the adoption of the Basel III international regulatory framework. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), Canada’s primary bank regulator, introduced revised capital adequacy requirements in 2011, which came into effect in 2013. More recently, further revisions to the Capital Adequacy Requirements Guideline came into effect for banking institution’s as of their 2018 fiscal year. The revised guideline accommodates for the changes in the capital treatment of allowances under the new International Financial Standard Reporting 9 (IFRS 9). The thrust of Canadian banking regulation is guided by principles-based regulation as opposed to bright-line rule making. The OSFI has issued guidelines on:

  • capital adequacy;
  • prudential limits;
  • accounting and disclosure; and
  • sound business and financial practices that are considered ‘best’ or ‘prudent’ practices for banks and set industry standards for the financial services sector as a whole.

To ensure the safety and protection of the Canadian banking system, Canada also imposes a public ownership requirement on banks, requiring large domestic banks to be ‘widely held’ by the public and listed on a prominent Canadian stock exchange and medium-sized domestic banks to be at least 35 per cent publicly owned and listed. Similarly, Canadian banks are prohibited from engaging in any business other than the ‘business of banking’ through various ownership restrictions resulting in a separation between banking, insurance, auto leasing and securities dealing sectors of the economy. The ‘business of banking’ includes:

  • providing financial services;
  • acting as a financial agent;
  • providing investment counselling services and portfolio management services; and
  • issuing and operating payment, credit or charge cards.

As of November 2017, there were 32 domestic banks, 21 foreign banks and 32 foreign bank branches operating in Canada. There were also 20 foreign bank representative offices established, giving presence to the banking companies of their home nations. Additionally, OSFI has designated Canada’s six largest banks: Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and National Bank of Canada, as domestic systemically important banks (D-SIBs). In November 2017, the FSB further designated Royal Bank of Canada as a global systemically important bank (G-SIB).

Primary and secondary legislation

Summarise the primary statutes and regulations that govern the banking industry.

Regulation of the banking industry falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. Although provincial governments have jurisdiction to incorporate and regulate certain deposit-taking institutions, such as credit unions, only a financial institution incorporated under the Bank Act can conduct business as a ‘bank’ in Canada.

The Bank Act regulates domestic banks (listed on Schedule I of the Bank Act), foreign subsidiary banks that are controlled by eligible foreign institutions (Schedule II) and bank branches of foreign institutions (Schedule III). The Bank Act regulates, inter alia, the ownership, capital and corporate governance structures of banks, prohibits certain business undertakings and associations, prescribes capital and liquidity adequacy requirements, and regulates consumer disclosure, transparency and record-keeping.

The Bank Act also contains a sunset clause that provides for a statutory review and update of the Bank Act every five years. New legislation tabling the Bank Act together with any proposed amendments was originally scheduled to be brought into force by March 2017. However, the Canadian government has extended the statutory sunset date by two years, until 29 March 2019. In August 2017, the Department of Finance published a consultation paper setting out four central themes in relation to its review:

  • supporting a competitive and innovative sector;
  • improving the protection of bank consumers
  • modernising the framework; and
  • safeguarding a stable and resilient sector.

The Bank Act is also supplemented by numerous regulations that set out various banking requirements, regarding, for example, the disclosure of charges and interest on banking services, the cost of borrowing for loans under a credit agreement and notice of uninsured deposits. OSFI publishes guidelines and advisories to provide more guidance and clarity for participants.

The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) also forms an important part of the Canadian regulatory landscape for banks.

Most recently, the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1 introduced three additional measures to the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation Act (CDIC Act) and the Bank Act:

  • the purpose of the CDIC Act is to be the resolution authority for member institutions;
  • D-SIBs have to develop, submit and maintain resolution plans; and
  • both acts will aim to provide OSFI with greater flexibility in setting the requirements for the D-SIBs to maintain a minimum capacity to absorb losses.

These additions follow the recent 2016 Budget Implementation Act’s legislative framework for a bail-in regime for Canada’s D-SIBs. This regime is intended to protect Canadian taxpayers in the unlikely event of a large bank failure by reinforcing that bank shareholders and creditors are responsible for the bank’s risks by converting the bank’s eligible long-term debt into common shares to recapitalise the bank. Regulations and guidelines setting out further features of the bail-in regime are being developed for consultation.

Regulatory authorities

Which regulatory authorities are primarily responsible for overseeing banks?

The federal government enacted the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Act, which established OSFI as the primary regulator of banks in Canada. OSFI administers the Bank Act and supervises banks in accordance with its published Supervisory Framework, which involves assessing the safety and soundness of banks, providing feedback and intervening when necessary. Under the Supervisory Framework, OSFI’s primary supervisory goal is to safeguard depositors against loss. As such, OSFI focuses on material risks to banks on a consolidated basis, which involves an assessment of all of a bank’s material entities (including subsidiaries, branches and joint ventures), both in Canada and internationally.

Where OSFI identifies issues that may impact the stability of the financial system, it reports those issues to the Financial Institutions Supervisory Committee (FISC). The FISC comprises representatives from the federal Department of Finance, the Bank of Canada, OSFI, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). The FISC meets regularly to share information, coordinate actions and advise the federal government on financial system issues.

The FCAC is an independent agency of the government of Canada and is responsible for, inter alia:

  • supervising and monitoring compliance with federal consumer protection measures;
  • promoting the adoption by financial institutions of policies and procedures designed to implement voluntary codes of conduct designed to protect the interests of their customers;
  • monitoring the implementation of voluntary codes of conduct that have been adopted by financial institutions;
  • promoting consumer awareness about the obligations of financial institutions and of external complaints bodies under consumer provisions applicable to them;
  • fostering, in cooperation with other government departments and participants, an understanding of issues relating to financial services;
  • monitoring trends and issues that may affect consumers of financial products and services; and
  • collaborating its activities with stakeholders to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.

Also, the FCAC is similarly responsible for supervising payment card network operators.

The CDIC, a Canadian federal Crown corporation, insures eligible deposits held at member financial institutions to protect consumers in the event of a bank failure.

Additionally, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), Canada’s financial intelligence unit, oversees compliance with the PCMLTFA and its regulations. FINTRAC’s mandate is to facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities. As such, FINTRAC requires all banks and certain other entities to keep and retain prescribed records, to submit reports for certain types of transactions, to take specific steps to identify prescribed individuals or entities, and to implement a compliance programme.

Government deposit insurance

Describe the extent to which deposits are insured by the government. Describe the extent to which the government has taken an ownership interest in the banking sector and intends to maintain, increase or decrease that interest.

The CDIC insures eligible deposits up to C$100,000 (principal and interest combined) per depositor, per institution. To qualify as an eligible deposit, the deposited funds must be in Canadian dollars and payable in Canadian currency. Eligible deposits include:

  • savings and chequing accounts;
  • term deposits repayable no more than five years after the date of deposit;
  • accounts holding funds to pay realty taxes on mortgaged properties;
  • money orders;
  • bank drafts; and
  • certified cheques; and
  • travellers’ cheques issued by a member institution.

The CDIC does not protect against fraud or theft and does not insure most:

  • debentures;
  • treasury bills;
  • investments in mortgages;
  • stocks;
  • bonds; or
  • mutual funds.

As of 1 February 2017, 81 financial institutions, including 45 banks, are CDIC members. CDIC members fund CDIC deposit insurance through premiums paid on the insured deposits they hold. CDIC members are required to display CDIC signage, file annual returns and comply with additional member requirements set out in the CDIC Act, the Financial Administration Act and the CDIC by-laws.

Neither the federal government nor any provincial government has taken any ownership interest in banks or other financial institutions.

Transactions between affiliates

Which legal and regulatory limitations apply to transactions between a bank and its affiliates? What constitutes an ‘affiliate’ for this purpose? Briefly describe the range of permissible and prohibited activities for financial institutions and whether there have been any changes to how those activities are classified.

Subject to certain limited exceptions under the Bank Act, a bank cannot enter into any transactions with a related party, including providing a guarantee on behalf of a related party, making an investment in the securities of a related party, assuming a loan owed by the related party or taking a security interest in the securities of a related party.

A related party includes:

  • a person holding a ‘significant interest’ in the bank;
  • an entity in which the person who controls the bank has a significant investment;
  • directors or senior officers of the bank or a bank holding company; and
  • the spouse, common-law partner or child under 18 years of age of any of the foregoing persons.

Federally regulated banks are prohibited from engaging in any business other than the business of banking and any business that generally belongs to it, except as specifically permitted under the Bank Act.

The business of banking includes:

  • the provision of financial services;
  • investment counselling and portfolio management;
  • acting as financial agent; and
  • issuing of payment and credit cards.

Also, a Canadian bank or a major shareholder or parent of a Canadian bank may not hold a substantial investment in entities engaging in:

  • fiduciary activities (unless such subsidiary is a federally registered trust company);
  • certain restricted securities activities;
  • restricted leasing activities (such as automobile leasing);
  • restricted residential mortgage activities (such as high loan-to-value mortgages); or
  • certain insurance activities.

Foreign governments and agencies or entities controlled by them (other than foreign banks) cannot incorporate a bank in Canada or acquire a significant ownership interest in a Canadian bank.

Regulatory challenges

What are the principal regulatory challenges facing the banking industry?

The primary regulatory challenge facing the Canadian banking industry is OSFI’s implementation of the Basel III capital and liquidity requirements and the systems, administration and accounting changes that result from the imposition of these requirements.

Canadian banks are also affected by regulatory changes taking place in the United States, both as a result of conducting a considerable amount of business in the United States but also because of the potential extraterritorial reach of certain US laws. The Volcker Rule and its related set of US laws have meant that large Canadian banks with US subsidiaries have to deal with two very different regulatory environments on cross-border and transnational business lines.

Similarly, the recent adoption of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in the US has been a cause for concern for Canadian banks. On 5 February 2014, Canada and the US entered into the Intergovernmental Agreement for the Enhanced Exchange of Tax Information under the Canada - US Tax Convention to implement FATCA in Canada, which came into force on 27 June 2014. Under this Intergovernmental Agreement, information related to US residents and citizens is reported to the Canada Revenue Agency rather than directly to the United States’ Internal Revenue Service in compliance with Canadian privacy laws. Furthermore, certain provisions of FATCA are not applicable to Canada, including the withholding tax, and certain accounts are exempt from reporting requirements.

Moreover, Canada’s prolonged period of low interest rates, paired with concerns over a stable and secure housing market, have prompted OSFI to revise the capital requirements for loans secured by residential real property. Canada’s Minister of Finance has also announced that the minimum down payment required for insured residential mortgages for house prices over C$500,000 will be increased to 10 per cent, from the current 5 per cent. The 10 per cent requirement only applies to the portion of house price exceeding C$500,000.

Recently, OSFI has prioritised attention to cybersecurity and outsourcing risks, which in part are aimed at the rise of fintech. Fintech is likely one of the greatest regulatory challenges currently facing the banking industry as innovation in technology and its application to the financial industry can often outpace regulatory developments. Regulators are facing the challenge of balancing the need to ensure the safety and soundness of the financial markets against the need to encourage further innovation that will allow Canadian fintech businesses to become global competitors.

Consumer protection

Are banks subject to consumer protection rules?

FCAC is a federal government agency responsible for ensuring financial entities comply with consumer protection provisions in various federal acts including:

  • the Bank Act;
  • the Insurance Companies Act;
  • the Trust and Loan Companies Act;
  • the Cooperative Credit Associations Act;
  • the Green Shield Canada Act;
  • the Payment Card Networks Act; and
  • the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act.

FCAC addresses consumer protection issues that arise from time to time. In 2016-17, FCAC reimbursed C$10.5 million to 1.2 million consumer accounts for issues relating to credit card statement disclosures, improper account changes, and inaccurate fees calculations.

In a 2014 landmark decision, Bank of Montreal v Marcotte, the Supreme Court of Canada held that consumer protection legislation applied to federally regulated bank credit card issuers. The decision indicates that in some circumstances provincial consumer protection law may apply to federally regulated financial institutions. The impact of the decision is that federally regulated financial institutions may need to consider both provincial and federal consumer protection laws.

In the emerging realm of fintech, such companies are revolutionising consumer banking and payments through alternative credit models that link lenders and borrowers directly and cut out the heavily regulated middlemen. With fintech’s rapid growth, regulators are faced with the challenge of protecting consumers without stifling the innovations that consumers desire.

In April 2017, FCAC released a new Supervision Framework, which is expected to replace the current Compliance Framework in 2018. Although the core activities governing the FCAC’s supervisory approach remain consistent, numerous enhancements have been incorporated into the new framework.

Future changes

In what ways do you anticipate the legal and regulatory policy changing over the next few years?

The Canadian banking regulatory landscape will continue to evolve towards more principles-based regulation and oversight of individual banking institutions, and the banking industry as a whole. Regulatory policy resulting from OSFI’s ongoing implementation of Basel III and increased attention to corporate governance will continue to develop over the next few years.

Financial institutions are adjusting to the increased regulatory burdens that have been imposed in recent years as a result of the implementation of Basel III. This includes more onerous liquidity requirements and leverage requirements and the implementation of the forward-looking accounting method, the IFRS 9, for D-SIBs. Increased focus on anti-money laundering and terrorist financing will likely place greater assessment and mitigation responsibilities on individual banking institutions. OSFI has indicated that operational risk management will become part of its ongoing supervisory activities and has published draft operational risk management guidelines that will require certain financial institutions to establish and maintain an enterprise-wide framework of controls for operational risk management.

As fintech becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it is anticipated that regulations specific to fintech will develop in relation to online payment methods, anti-money laundering regimes and crypto-currencies. For example, the Bank of Canada recently released a whitepaper on the merits of issuing its own national crypto-currency, and what the implications would be on traditional macroeconomic policies.


Extent of oversight

How are banks supervised by their regulatory authorities? How often do these examinations occur and how extensive are they?

OSFI requires disclosure from all federally regulated banks on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. For example, banks must:

  • file consolidated balance sheets, deposit liabilities and interbank exposures as at the last day of each month;
  • income statements, statements of mortgage loans and non-mortgage loans, and a statement of retail portfolio on a quarterly basis; and
  • an impairment charge filing on an annual basis.

Additionally, the Bank Act requires OSFI to conduct an examination of every bank on an annual basis to determine compliance with regulations and assess its financial condition.

In 2015-2016, high levels of domestic household indebtedness, low interest rates, sustained low oil prices and ongoing global financial uncertainty continued to be seen as sources of potential systemic vulnerability. OSFI took action to address the possible impact of these challenges and achieve its strategic priorities by communicating its expectations for risk management to federally regulated financial institutions and by conducting significant reviews in several areas, including:

  • corporate and commercial lending;
  • retail lending;
  • outsourcing;
  • cyber-risk;
  • risk management; and
  • compliance.

In 2016, OSFI conducted a standardised stress test on reinsurance related risks, and with the Bank of Canada, conducted a macro stress test with D-SIBS that explored severe but plausible scenarios and associated system impacts. In 2018, OSFI implemented changes to mortgage underwriting standards, creating a stress test for borrowers making a down payment exceeding 20 per cent. This will require banks to increase their loan-to-value ratios, which will be strictly enforced by OSFI.


How do the regulatory authorities enforce banking laws and regulations?

The Bank Act contains penalty and sanction provisions that can be exercised by OSFI. In practice, however, OSFI does not generally exercise these penal powers and instead relies on other mechanisms such as requiring binding compliance agreements or issuing compliance directives. In addition, the FCAC and CDIC also have limited enforcement powers (see question 7). CDIC has the authority to be appointed as a receiver over a troubled member bank with significant CDIC-insured deposits, but this power has not been exercised in the past decade.

OSFI has a four-stage intervention framework that enables OSFI and, where appropriate, CDIC, to work collaboratively with a bank to develop a process to bring the bank into full compliance with regulations or improve the bank’s financial viability.

  • stage one entails an early-warning system whereby senior management may be required to meet with OSFI (which may involve site visits by OSFI), and OSFI may issue public supervisory letters calling on the bank to undertake certain measures;
  • stage two entails OSFI possibly requiring mandatory implementation of corrective measures and increasing its monitoring of the bank. OSFI may also engage an auditor to undertake an external audit of the procedures, processes and reporting mechanisms of the bank;
  • stage three anticipates a future failure of the bank and involves assessing asset quality, full-time on-site monitoring and enhanced planning for full regulatory administration of the bank; and
  • stage four denotes that the bank is no longer viable. OSFI will take over the affairs of the bank and commence restructuring under the Winding-Up and Restructuring Act (WURA), which likely results in the sale of assets of the bank to another institution approved by federal government.

What are the most common enforcement issues and how have they been addressed by the regulators and the banks?

Based on the information released by OSFI, FINTRAC and the FCAC, there are no recurring regulatory compliance issues or common enforcement measures related to the banking industry in Canada. Supervisory and regulatory bodies rarely initiate enforcement action with the exception of consumer protection issues (see question 7).

In 2014, OSFI released a Guideline on the regulation of the benchmarking of CDOR (the Canadian Dollar Offered Rate - the Canadian equivalent of the London Inter-bank Offered Rate). The Guideline states that it is in furtherance of OSFI’s work with banks to meet international standards. The Guideline is intended to complement OSFI’s Corporate Governance Guideline and Supervisory Framework as well as OSFI’s general principles-based approach. OSFI requires:

  • adequate governance controls;
  • annual reports by senior management to the bank’s board of directors;
  • independence between oversight functions and operational management; and
  • timely disclosure of material breaches in the submission process to senior management and the board.

Banks are expected to include CDOR submission process compliance in their annual audit plans. OSFI will review banks’ CDOR submission controls, may require copies of any related reports and may discuss findings with senior management, the board and the oversight functions.


Government takeovers

In what circumstances may banks be taken over by the government or regulatory authorities? How frequent is this in practice? How are the interests of the various stakeholders treated?

While the government is under no legal obligation to take over a failing bank, there is a widely held assumption that the government would not permit a large Canadian bank to fail because of the negative impact on the greater Canadian economy. Banks may be taken over by OSFI or the CDIC in cases of insolvency or regulatory non-compliance. OSFI’s four-stage intervention process (see question 10) and the establishment by CDIC of a ‘bridge-bank’ are tools that these regulatory authorities may use to take over a bank.

Bank failures are rare in Canada and consequently, government or regulatory authority intervention by way of bank takeover is also rare. However, on 10 February 2016, OSFI temporarily took control of the Canadian branch of Maple Bank GmbH in an effort to preserve the value of the assets at the branch after German regulators suspended the bank’s activities. Shortly thereafter, OSFI made a request to the Attorney General of Canada to apply for a winding-up order, which was subsequently granted by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The Bank of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation provided liquidity support during the global financial crisis, including short-term loans, purchasing mortgage-backed securities and providing guarantees for Canadian banks. The government was not, however, required to intervene in the Canadian banking industry to the extent witnessed in other jurisdictions, nor did the government take an equity stake in any Canadian bank during the crisis.

Canadian banking regulation is strongly focused around the protection of depositors. This is demonstrated by CDIC’s insuring of a depositor’s first C$100,000 of eligible funds in a given bank. OSFI tightened its capital requirements after the financial crisis to better protect depositors by providing additional funds in a bank crisis scenario, including requiring the inclusion of non-viability contingent capital provisions in non-common share capital instruments.

Bank failures

What is the role of the bank’s management and directors in the case of a bank failure? Must banks have a resolution plan or similar document?

If OSFI takes control of a bank pursuant to the four-stage intervention process (see question 10), directors’ legal roles are suspended until either the period of control expires or a winding-up is requested. Once a liquidator is appointed by the court pursuant to a bank’s winding-up proceedings, the directors’ powers are vested in the liquidator.

Currently, banks are not required to have a resolution or ‘living will’ plan that sets out the protocol for a failure or recovery following a failure, but OSFI and the CDIC have been working with financial institutions to implement such plans from a prudential standpoint. However, D-SIBs are required to establish a resolution plan (see question 15). In addition, CDIC’s by-laws require deposit-taking CDIC-insured institutions to provide certain information on an annual and on-request basis to facilitate resolution planning.

Are managers or directors personally liable in the case of a bank failure?

Officers or directors are not personally liable in the case of a bank failure, but directors may be liable for certain actions that could result in a bank failure. Directors are liable for any breach of a duty imposed under the Bank Act or other applicable legislation or a duty under common law. For example, directors may be liable under the Bank Act if the directors authorised subordinate indebtedness or a reduction in stated capital when there were reasonable grounds for believing that the bank was, or the reduction would cause the bank to be, in contravention of capital adequacy provisions or liquidity provisions. There is a two-year limitation period from the date the resolution passed authorising the prohibited action after which directors would no longer be liable. There are several defences available to directors including the ‘business judgement rule’, whereby a director would not be found liable for properly informed business decisions made in good faith and in the absence of conflicts of interest, fraud or illegality.

In the event of a bank failure, directors are also jointly and severally liable for up to six months of unpaid wages for each employee. There is a six-month limitation period from the date wages are owed but go unpaid, a winding-up order is issued or liquidation proceedings have commenced, and a two-year limitation period after the director ceases to be in that role. Banks can purchase directors’ and officers’ insurance in order to ensure indemnification for such claims.

Planning exercises

Describe any resolution planning or similar exercises that banks are required to conduct.

In 2015, the Canadian government announced that Canada’s DSIBs would be responsible for preparing resolution plans, which would ensure the continuity of critical banking services to Canadians in the event of a large bank failure. CDIC has since provided guidance and expectations for the content and the implementation of resolution plans. In setting these requirements, CDIC is guided by international efforts, including FSB guidance on:

  • operational continuity;
  • loss absorbency;
  • funding;
  • cross-border cooperation;
  • effective resolution strategies; and
  • removing obstacles to resolvability.

As part of its mandate, CDIC asks DSIBs to provide a wide range of information with respect to their operations so that they may assess the means by which their legal, financial and operating structure will facilitate an orderly resolution of a range of severe events. This includes the banks’:

  • corporate profile;
  • strategies to ensure continuation or wind-down of material operations;
  • scenario analysis; and
  • the operational feasibility of the strategies outlined in the plan.

Banks are additionally expected to detail and remediate any major obstacles to the successful implementation of their resolution plans. As the CDIC is responsible for reviewing and assessing these plans, to ensure feasible resolution and to help address any impediments, CDIC is ultimately responsible for selecting and implementing a resolution strategy in the event of a failure. Given that Canada has held D-SIBs to the same standards as G-SIBs, no new or different approach is expected in relation to Canada’s new G-SIB.

Capital requirements

Capital adequacy

Describe the legal and regulatory capital adequacy requirements for banks. Must banks make contingent capital arrangements?


The Bank Act requires banks to maintain adequate capital and permits OSFI to establish guidelines setting out these requirements. The current Capital Adequacy Guidelines (2018) implement the Basel III Accord. The Capital Adequacy Guidelines require banks to have capital requirements that meet or exceed the Basel III minimums. Among those requirements, Canadian banks must have total capital ratios of 9.875 per cent for 2018, which will gradually increase to 10.5 per cent by 2019 through the phase-in of a capital conservation buffer that began in 2016. Banks that issue preferred shares or subordinated debt must contractually provide for the conversion of such instruments into common equity should the institution become non-viable, as discussed above.

The 2018 version of the CAR Guidelines introduced changes related to the treatment of allowances as a result of the expected adoption of IFRS 9 by banks in 2018. Further changes in respect of holdings of instruments issued by G-SIBs and D-SIBs are expected at a later date. OSFI implemented a Leverage Requirements Guideline in 2014. Beginning in the first quarter of 2015, institutions must maintain a leverage ratio that meets or exceeds 3 per cent at all times. Individual institutions may be prescribed their own authorised leverage ratios by the Superintendent.

In June 2017, OSFI published a draft Total Loss Absorbing Capacity (TLAC) Guideline (TLAC Guideline) in preparation for the coming into force of subsection 485(1.1) of the Bank Act associated with the proposed bail-in regime for D-SIBs (see question 19), which will require D-SIBs to maintain a minimum capacity to absorb losses. The purpose of the TLAC requirement is to provide a non-viable D-SIB with sufficient loss absorbing capacity to support its recapitalisation that would facilitate an orderly resolution of the D-SIB while minimising adverse impacts on the stability of the financial sector, ensuring the continuity of critical functions, and minimising taxpayers’ exposure to loss.

Banks are required to establish and maintain policies relating to liquidity consistent with OSFI’s current Liquidity Guideline. These policies must be approved by the board of directors and reviewed annually. In 2014, OSFI revised the Liquidity Adequacy Requirements Guideline consistent with Basel III, including the liquidity coverage ratio and net stable funding ratio. The revised and reissued Liquidity Adequacy Requirements Guideline has been in effect since January 2015.

Foreign banks carrying on business through a foreign subsidiary incorporated in Canada are subject to the same capital requirements and regulatory framework as domestic banks. Foreign banks operating through a foreign bank branch (whether through a full-service branch or a lending branch) are not subject to Canadian capital requirements. The rationale for this approach is that foreign banks operating through a foreign bank branch are subject to capital requirements and regulation in their home jurisdiction. Full-service branches are required to hold a capital equivalency deposit (CED) of C$5 million or 5 per cent of their branch liabilities, whichever is greater, with an approved Canadian financial institution. A lending branch is only required to hold a CED of C$100,000.

How are the capital adequacy guidelines enforced?

Section 628 of the Bank Act obliges banks to provide OSFI with such information, at such times and in such form as OSFI may require. OSFI requires banks to submit quarterly reports detailing compliance with capital adequacy requirements. If issues are identified, OSFI will subject the bank to the four-stage intervention process described above.


What happens in the event that a bank becomes undercapitalised?

Undercapitalisation may result in OSFI requiring a bank to increase its capital. OSFI has the ability to intervene through its four-stage intervention process. Ultimately, OSFI has the ability to take control of a bank’s assets or take control of a bank for an interim period. Also, the federal government is permitted to invest in the shares of a bank if it believes it will assist in stabilising the financial industry.


What are the legal and regulatory processes in the event that a bank becomes insolvent?

Once OSFI controls a bank, it may request that the Attorney General apply to wind up the bank under WURA. A liquidator of a bank must be either CDIC itself or a trustee licensed under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The statutory duties of a liquidator are set out in WURA and include:

  • controlling all property of the bank;
  • carrying on business that is beneficial during the winding-up;
  • repaying indebtedness; and
  • distributing assets.

The CDIC Act permits CDIC to take certain measures if a CDIC-insured bank becomes insolvent. Such measures include requesting an order vesting the shares of the bank with CDIC so as to be sold to a third party and also the option to request the establishment of a ‘bridge-bank’ from the Minister of Finance such that the bank’s viable assets could be sold to a third party.

On 22 June 2016, a bail-in regime was introduced which, among other things, allows the federal government to direct CDIC to convert certain of a DSIB’s liabilities and shares into common shares of the DSIB or its affiliates such that, in the event of failure, losses would be covered by the bank’s shareholders and certain investors instead of taxpayers or depositors. The mechanics of how such a bail-in will work have not yet been published owing to finalisation.

In June 2017, three regulations were proposed by the Department of Finance to facilitate implementation of the bail-in regime, including the Bank Recapitalization (Bail-in) Conversion Regulations, Bank Recapitalization (Bail-in) Issuance Regulations, and Compensation Regulations. Together, these Regulations define the conditions for the conversion of instruments eligible for bail-in, outline terms that must be adhered to upon issuance of an eligible bail-in instrument and establish a framework to determine compensation for those entitled under the regulations. Final versions have not yet been published.

Recent and future changes

Have capital adequacy guidelines changed, or are they expected to change in the near future?

As described above, the Basel III capital adequacy requirements have been implemented for Canadian banks through the revised Capital Adequacy Requirements Guidelines. In addition, as previously noted, in March 2013, OSFI designated the six largest Canadian banks as D-SIBs and announced a 1 per cent common equity surcharge for all D-SIBs.

As of 1 January 2018, D-SIBs are required to meet the target common equity Tier 1 (CET 1) ratio of 6.375 per cent of risk-weighted assets (after applying the applicable capital conversation buffer) that all institutions are already required to meet, plus the additional 1 per cent owing to its D-SIB designation. The surcharge will be periodically reviewed in light of national and international developments. Such restrictions were implemented in recognition of the importance of D-SIBs to the Canadian economy, as the largest six banks account for more than 90 per cent of total banking assets. G-SIBs are subject to additional loss absorbency requirements depending on a bank’s global systematic importance.

In December 2016, OSFI released revisions to its Capital Adequacy Requirements Guideline that amended the regulatory capital requirements for loans secured by residential real estate properties. These revisions are now in effect and impact the regulatory capital requirements for deposit-taking institutions using internal models for mortgage default risk. The revisions to the Capital Adequacy Requirements Guideline included:

  • clarification on how the Capital Adequacy Requirement Guideline applies to federal credit unions, particularly with respect to qualifying capital instruments, deductions from capital and transitioning of non-qualifying instruments;
  • revisions to the treatment of insured residential mortgages aimed at emphasising that credit risk insurance is a risk mitigant that relies on the due diligence of a mortgage originator with respect to the requirements of a mortgage insurance contract;
  • clarification on how OSFI will exercise national discretion in the implementation of countercyclical buffer, including the reciprocity of counter cyclical buffers put in place in other jurisdictions; and
  • OSFI’s implementation of the equity investment in funds rules issued by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.

Ownership restrictions and implications

Controlling interest

Describe the legal and regulatory limitations regarding the types of entities and individuals that may own a controlling interest in a bank. What constitutes ‘control’ for this purpose?

Limitations on the ownership or control of Canadian banks will vary depending on the size of a bank’s equity. Banks are divided into three categories for the purposes of determining the applicable ownership rules:

  • large banks, which have an equity capitalisation of C$12 billion or more;
  • medium banks, which have an equity capitalisation of C$2 billion or more but less than C$12 billion; and
  • small banks, which have an equity capitalisation of less than C$2 billion.

Large banks must be widely held, such that no single shareholder may own more than 20 per cent of any class of voting shares, or more than 30 per cent of any class of non-voting shares. A bank holding company may control a large bank, so long as the bank holding company is itself widely held.

Medium banks may be closely held, so long as at least 35 per cent of the voting shares of the bank are listed on a recognised stock exchange in Canada and are publicly held.

Small banks are not subject to ownership limits as long as the Minister of Finance is satisfied with the character and integrity of the applicant or, for a corporate applicant, its reputation for being operated in a manner that is consistent with the standards of good character and integrity.

In addition to these constraints on ownership, no person may acquire or increase a ‘significant interest’ in a bank without the consent of the Minister of Finance. A ‘significant interest’ is more than 10 per cent of any class of shares of a bank.

Foreign ownership

Are there any restrictions on foreign ownership of banks?

If a foreign bank that is not a resident of a World Trade Organization (WTO) member country wishes to acquire or increase a significant interest in a bank, prior to approving the transaction, OSFI (acting on behalf of the Minister of Finance) must be satisfied that banks are treated similarly in the jurisdiction in which the applicant principally carries on business, either directly or through a subsidiary. The government of a foreign country, or any political subdivision or agent thereof, cannot acquire shares of a Canadian bank.

Implications and responsibilities

What are the legal and regulatory implications for entities that control banks?

An entity that seeks approval from the Minister of Finance to acquire or increase a significant interest in a bank must provide a range of information that enables the regulator to investigate the applicant, including information that demonstrates that the applicant has sufficient resources to provide continuing financial support to the bank, and that the applicant’s business record and experience is appropriate. The proposed ownership structure will be scrutinised.

An application for approval of a significant interest in a bank must also include an acknowledgement in writing of OSFI’s expectation that the applicant will provide ongoing financial, managerial and operational support to the bank if such support becomes necessary (Support Principle Letter). Such ongoing support may take the form of additional capital, the provision of managerial expertise or the provision of support in such areas as risk management, internal control systems and training for bank employees. Importantly, the Support Principle Letter does not create a legally binding obligation on the applicant to provide such support.

What are the legal and regulatory duties and responsibilities of an entity or individual that controls a bank?

See question 23.

What are the implications for a controlling entity or individual in the event that a bank becomes insolvent?

Under the Bank Act, shares issued by a bank are non-assessable, so a controlling entity is not liable to the bank or its creditors by virtue of holding such shares. OSFI will take over the affairs of an insolvent bank or commence restructuring under the WURA (or both), which will likely result in a sale of assets of the bank to another approved institution. In the event of liquidation, a controlling entity would be likely to lose the entire value of its investment since depositors and other creditors rank ahead of shareholders in a distribution of the proceeds from the liquidation.

As noted in question 23, although the controlling entity or individual will have provided a Support Principle Letter, the letter does not create a legally binding obligation on the applicant to provide such support in the event of, or to prevent, an insolvency.

Changes in control

Required approvals

Describe the regulatory approvals needed to acquire control of a bank. How is ‘control’ defined for this purpose?

The Minister of Finance must approve the acquisition of control of a small or medium bank. With limited exceptions, no person may control a large bank. Under the relevant statutory provisions, ‘control’ means control in fact and not necessarily a legally defined concept of control. Many factors are relevant in determining whether an entity has ‘control in fact’ of another entity such as:

  • the size or value of ownership stake, or both;
  • the ability to assert economic pressure on the entity; and
  • the influence over corporate governance, operations or life of the entity, or both.

These factors are non exhaustive and a specific analysis is required in each case to make a determination. OSFI will review an application and then make a recommendation to the minister.

A closely related concept is that of a ‘significant interest’. An acquisition or accumulation of more than 10 per cent of any class of shares of a bank (referred to as a ‘significant interest’) requires the approval of the Minister of Finance.

Foreign acquirers

Are the regulatory authorities receptive to foreign acquirers? How is the regulatory process different for a foreign acquirer?

See question 22 regarding foreign ownership. In addition, the investment rules applicable to foreign banks, including their ability to acquire or hold control of, or a substantial investment in, Canadian banks, are comparable to the rules applicable to Canadian banks. Section 522.22 of the Bank Act requires ministerial approval for a foreign bank to acquire or hold control of, or a substantial investment in, a Canadian bank.

Factors considered by authorities

What factors are considered by the relevant regulatory authorities in an acquisition of control of a bank?

In determining whether or not to grant approval for the acquisition of control of a bank, the Minister of Finance will assess whether the applicant is suitable to control a bank. In this regard, the minister will consider various factors relevant to the application, including:

  • the financial resources of the applicant;
  • the soundness and feasibility of the plans of the applicant;
  • the business record and experience of the applicant;
  • the character and integrity of the applicant and its reputation;
  • whether the bank will be operated responsibly;
  • the impact of any integration of the businesses and operations of the applicant with those of the bank;
  • the extent to which the proposed corporate structure of the applicant and its affiliates may affect the supervision and regulation of the bank; and
  • the best interests of the financial system in Canada.

Filing requirements

Describe the required filings for an acquisition of control of a bank.

The transaction instructions describe the information to be included with an application to OSFI and provide administrative guidance about the application process. In addition to certain basic information about the applicant, the applicant is also expected to provide information that will help OSFI make a determination about whether the applicant is ‘fit and proper’ to control a bank, including a business plan and financial information. Background and security assessments must be conducted for certain key individuals of the applicant, and an OSFI security information form must be submitted for each such individual for this purpose. The applicant must submit a Support Principle Letter (see question 23).

Timeframe for approval

What is the typical time frame for regulatory approval for both a domestic and a foreign acquirer?

Applicants should always ensure that an application is complete and that an OSFI security information form is submitted as early as possible in the application process, as OSFI does not control how long it takes to complete these background assessments. The Minister is not subject to a specified time limit on the assessment of applications. Where an applicant is a WTO-member foreign bank, additional information may be requested and the process may take longer.

Update and trends

Update and trends

Fintech will continue to be one of the most interesting challenges facing the banking industry in 2018 as regulators try to keep pace with technological advances relating to the provision of financial services. One such technological advance that has generated a great deal of discussion is the concept of ‘open banking’ whereby consumers would have the right to share their own banking information with other financial service providers. Potential applications of distributed ledger technology are being considered by major stakeholders in Canada and may also shape the way banking is provided in the future. We anticipate regulatory changes as fintech innovations become more prominent. Cybersecurity and cyber resiliency will also continue to be of major concern to the banking industry as systems become more interconnected worldwide. Additional regulatory and legislative safeguards are anticipated over the next year as regulators and government seek to limit the banking industry’s exposure to potentially disastrous cyber attacks.