Routing Numbers: Where To Find Them And When To Use Them

A routing number is a banking code in Canada that consists of 8-9 numerical digits. It makes it easy to identify the financial institution and branch location associated with a bank account.

A routing number (sometimes referred to as an ABA routing number, in regard to the American Bankers Association) is made up of 2 components, each of which you may be more familiar with than the routing number itself: 

  1. The branch number (also known as a transit number). It consists of 5 digits and represents where your account is held (i.e., where you first opened your account).
  2. The institution number. It's always 3 digits long and never changes because it represents the bank the account is with. 

How to find your transit number

It's easy to find the transit number for your account pretty quickly. Just do a search on your bank's branch and ATM locator. In addition to giving you the branch's address and operating hours (which are handy), it'll identify the branch number.

Check out this example: 

Image Source: Google

For specifics on how to find your routing numbers with some of Canada's top banks, click on the articles below:

How to find your institution number

The institution number usually isn't as easy to find on a bank's website. But that's okay because you can find it by doing a quick Google search. We've even listed a few common ones below to save you some time:

001 - Bank of Montreal

002 - Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)

003 - Royal Bank of Canada 

004 - Toronto Dominion Bank (TD)

614 - Tangerine Bank

Together, the branch number and the institution number form a routing number that looks something like this: 1704-004. 

What's an account number?

Notice how the routing number identifies only which bank and which branch of that bank your account is held at. That's why you also need to know your account number. Your account number is an important piece of ID that tells any electronic funds transfer system where to withdraw or deposit the money. It's usually 8-12 digits long, and it's unique to your account. 

When it comes to security, treat your account number the same way that you treat your credit card number. Don't share it with anyone or use it online unless the site you're using it on is trustworthy and secure. Better safe than sorry!

Note that if you have both a chequing account and a savings account at the same bank and branch, your routing number will be the same. But the account numbers will differ. Keep in mind that the account number of your chequing account isn't the same as your debit card number. But you can easily find it by logging in to your online banking account. Here's an example: 

Image source: Scotiabank

The only time a routing number will be different between your accounts is if you ever opened an account at a different branch. The branch and ATM locator can give you a quick refresher if you find that they are and you just want to confirm. 

Who decides the routing number?

Payments Canada, first founded in 1980, is an organization that operates the payment clearing and settlement system in Canada. It was first established in 1980 by the Canadian Payments Act, and its responsibilities include regulating and maintaining directories of bank routing numbers in Canada. Headquartered in Ottawa, it's a non-profit organization that's fully funded by the financial institutions that participate in its systems.

One such directory that Payments Canada oversees is the main electronic directory of all routing numbers. Called the Financial Institutions File (FIF), the directory is updated weekly and operates on a fee-based subscription to member institutions of Payments Canada.

The member institutions are all those you'd expect to see: our Canadian banks like The Toronto-Dominion Bank; authorized foreign banks like The Bank of New York Mellon, Centrals; cooperative credit associations like Caisse Populaire Acadienne Ltee; and trust and loan companies like Manulife Trust Company. You can also find all members' institution numbers on this list along with the branch directory that gives you access to the FIF.

In addition, Payments Canada provides helpful payments 101 courses through their Payment Academy. These include its Data-Rich Payments course, which covers how transactions are carrying more information to better facilitate interoperability and economic efficiency, and its original Learning Exchange series about understanding payments. 

When do I use my routing number?

When you apply for life insurance, we'll ask for your routing number and account number only as part of your delivery receipt when you've received your new policy. In addition to accepting the offer, you'll have to complete a pre-authorized debit (PAD) or pre-authorized cheque (PAC) form for your insurance company. Both PADs and PACs are types of automated funds transfers (AFTs) that use routing numbers to identify the correct account they are trying to withdraw the funds from.

Recommended: Best Life Insurance Canada

Above, we've explained in detail how you can find your routing number and account number. But if you're looking for a shortcut, one you're probably already familiar with, take a look at a blank cheque for your account. Here's an RBC cheque as an example:  

Image source: RBC

Those funny-looking numbers at the bottom identify the branch number, institution number, and account number.  

Keep in mind that not all cheques look like this one. (Because that would make it too easy, right?) Your cheque may have more of those routing symbols between the numbers than this cheque has. Or it may have fewer, and your transit number and institution number may just be one long sequence of 8-9 digits.

This is when knowing what your transit number or institution number comes in handy. If you know that RBC's institution number is 003, it'll be easy to tell where the account number starts and where the transit number ends, regardless of how the numbers are split by the routing symbols.

We've also found that it's very handy for us to know the most common institution numbers in case PAD forms come back because of incomplete or incorrect information. This makes it easy for us to identify if our customer has just provided the wrong institution number, and it lets us obtain the correct info from the customer that much faster.