There used to be a really good reason for not switching from a big bank to a smaller one: convenience. Belonging to the BMOs and CIBCs of the world meant that accessing your cash without paying a fee was as simple as a walking a block to your next bank ATM or branch location. Having accounts with a smaller or online bank meant planning ahead when you needed to withdraw money, and usually steep fees for using another lender's ATM. Not anymore.

A growing network for alternative lenders

The Exchange — a network of ATMs for about 184 small banks and credit unions across Canada — announced in June that it was growing its network by over 30%. The move brings The Exchange’s number of ATMs to 3,300, second only to the Royal Bank of Canada.

According to the press release, 2,607 postal code areas will now be serviced by Exchange machines, which don’t charge clients of its member banks and credit unions any surcharges.

Participating financial institutions include Alterna Bank, HSBC Bank Canada, ICICI Bank Canada and Manulife Bank, which is adding 800 of the 830 new ATMs. Those 800 machines will be branded with Manulife Bank logo and will be installed in various Mac’s, Couche-Tard and Circle K stores across the country. The rollout began this month and set to be completed in September.

A no-fee approach

Globe and Mail personal finance columnist Rob Carrick wrote about the news, saying it could be mean an impending “golden age of competition” for banking business.

For cardholders of Exchange’s participating institutions, the news sweetens what is already a great ATM experience. Unlike a CIBC member who uses a RBC ATM and pays a surcharge, clients of Exchange member institutions never pay fees — even if the Exchange ATM isn’t one that belongs to their financial institution. So, a Manulife cardholder can use a Meridian Credit Union ATM without coughing up a $2 or $3 fee, and vice versa.

Jaclyn Tersigni

Jaclyn Tersigni is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She's written on everything from tea sommeliers to motorcycle-riding granddads to regifting etiquette. With a journalism degree from Ryerson University, she got her start at ELLE Canada and The Globe and Mail. Her interests and hobbies include all things ocean-related (notably, the beach, oysters and surf culture), overbuying used books and clothing, riding her bike all over town and, most importantly, music old and new.

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