Canada targets banks with new consumer rights it once abandoned

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Canada is reviving a push to beef up consumer rights when dealing with major banks.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget implementation bill — known as C-86, a sprawling law unveiled this week — includes a series of changes to Canadian law governing lenders like Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank. Many of the changes were proposed two years ago but abandoned over jurisdictional disputes.

The latest proposal beefs up the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's powers, including raising the maximum fine to C$10 million ($7.6 million) from C$500,000. It also introduces new whistleblower protections, advertising rules and requirements to more clearly spell out information customers are agreeing to.

"We know that Canadians want to ensure that they have appropriate protections in their dealings with banks — that's why we think this is important to move forward," Morneau said in Ottawa Thursday. "We're just going to make sure we're doing it in the right way."

Other changes include:
A requirement for banks to alert clients if their personal account balances fall below an amount determined by the client Capping maximum liability for unauthorized credit card use, and blocking overdraft charges without a client's consent Barring banks from setting a minimum balance for a person to open certain accounts Making credit card minimum payments due at least 21 days after the end of a billing cycle.

"Banks in Canada recognize the importance of the provisions in Bill C-86 to create a consumer framework for financial services," Aaron Boles, a spokesman for the Canadian Bankers Association, said in a statement. "This is an issue on which we have been working cooperatively with the federal government and we look forward to working through the parliamentary process to achieve a practical approach to implementing the various elements of the bill."

The changes came after a review of the industry's sales practices, but omit a key provision — one that asserted federal exclusivity over banking rules. An attempt to do that in 2016 blew into a public spat with Quebec, Canada's French-speaking province where questions of jurisdiction are hotly contested.

The bill is expected to become law, given Trudeau's party holds a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons, but could be amended. The government will need to pick a date, or dates, for the provisions to come into effect, but it wouldn't be before April of 2019.

Bloomberg News