Oh Canada!

July 20, 2017 at 9:59 am 4 comments

With its impeccably mild-mannered citizenry, a  national anthem that normal people can actually  sing with gusto, and  a rational  political environment,   I typically have nothing but praise for my fellow  hockey-loving brethren to the North, Justin Bieber notwithstanding

But recently they have clamped down on their credit unions in a way that has gotten attention from U.S. credit unions and for good reason. In late June, Canada’s Financial regulator banned non- banks from using the word bank.  The prohibition not only prohibits non-banks from using the word bank as part of their name-fair enough-but also outlaws usages of the word which suggest that credit unions engage in  banking activity. For example Canadian CUs are prohibited from telling members about their Mobile Banking, Telephone Banking or Branch Banking services; nor can they tell members that they can “Bank” at their convenience.

Of course, this is downright foolish not to mention downright Orwellian.  Credit unions offer banking services. Word meanings change.  A  Bank originally referred to a dirt embankment not a place where people put their money for safekeeping .  Today bank is often used  as a verb or adjective as in “I prefer to do my banking at night” or “that credit union provides great banking services.”  The real confusion will come from credit unions having to explain to their members that they provide “on-line credit unioning services that are better than the online banking services offered down the street.”

There seems to be spasms of these linguistic battles every so often. I checked in with my good friends at CUNA yesterday and they pointed out that there are about a dozen states where this could be an issue. Similar attacks were previously brought not just in Vermont, which I blogged about five years ago, (Time fly’s when you are having fun) but in Washington State.

In reality, there is only so much banks can tweak us over this ridiculous issue. Commonsense and the First Amendment are on our side and I think the banks know this.

Don’t get me wrong, only banks should be allowed to call themselves banks and only credit unions should be allowed to call themselves credit unions. Government has a responsibility to make it clear to people what type of institution they are dealing with but actions such as Canada’s  are a pernicious attempt to monopolize the language for one industry’s benefit  What’s next? Is the   Toronto Raptors basketball team going to be banned from taking “bank shots?”

Oh Canada!


Entry filed under: General, Legal Watch. Tags: .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Simon Walton  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:22 am


    I enjoy your posts enormously, but can I offer a correction on the origins of “bank”. It’s from Italian originally.

    The word bank was borrowed in Middle English from Middle French banque, from Old Italian banca, meaning “table”, from Old High German banc, bank “bench, counter”. Benches were used as makeshift desks or exchange counters during the Renaissance by Jewish[10] Florentine bankers, who used to make their transactions atop desks covered by green tablecloths.


    Simon Walton

    • 2. Henry Meier  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thanks for responding. I’m glad to see there are people out there who love words. I agree that banker is Italian in origin.
      But according to Marian Webster’s First Known use feature bank was in use as early as the 13th century

      • 3. Simon Walton  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:52 am

        I stand corrected – please keep up the good work!

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association. In addition, although Henry strives to give his readers useful and accurate information on a broad range of subjects, many of which involve legal disputes, his views are not a substitute for legal advise from retained counsel.

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