Interac is a Canadian interbank network that enables fast, secure, and convenient financial transactions between individuals, businesses, and financial institutions across the country. As Canada’s national debit card service and e-Transfer provider, Interac plays a vital role in the nation’s financial infrastructure.
Overview of Interac
Founded in 1984, Interac is a not-for-profit organization owned by its member financial institutions. It operates a secure and reliable network that connects Canada’s major banks and credit unions, along with federal financial institutions, payment processors, and businesses.
Interac provides the infrastructure, standards, and security for two key services:
- Interac Debit – The debit card system accounting for over 70% of all debit transactions in Canada. There are over 79 million Interac debit cards in circulation.
- Interac e-Transfer – An online funds transfer service allowing easy transfer of money between bank accounts via email or mobile number. Over 249 million e-Transfers are sent annually.
Beyond these flagship offerings, Interac also supports point-of-sale and online payments, cross-border debit, and ATM services.
Interac Debit Network
Interac debit cards are issued by participating financial institutions and allow cardholders to pay for goods and services directly from their bank accounts. Interac does not issue branded debit cards itself, but rather provides the technology and protocols to facilitate secure debit transactions.
Here are some key facts about Interac’s debit network:
- Accepted at over 450,000 retailers, gas stations, restaurants, government offices, and other businesses in Canada
- Over 2 billion Interac debit transactions processed in 2021 totaling over $366 billion CAD
- Over 79 million Interac debit cards in circulation as of 2021
- Over 59,000 ATMs on the Interac network providing cash withdrawals and other services
- Integrated chip & PIN technology provides enhanced security and fraud protection
- Flash or tap payments under $100 don’t require a PIN for convenience
Interac debit transactions are processed through a cardholder’s financial institution, utilizing the Interac network to communicate securely between the merchant, issuer, and payment processor. Settlement occurs quickly, depositing or withdrawing funds from the cardholder’s account.
Interac e-Transfer Service
Interac e-Transfer enables customers of participating Canadian financial institutions to transfer money directly to another person’s bank account via email or mobile number. It provides a fast, simple, and secure alternative to paying with cash or cheques.
Here are some key details on Interac e-Transfer:
- Available to customers of over 250 financial institutions across Canada
- Recipients don’t need an Interac e-Transfer account to deposit the money
- Money is deposited directly into the recipient’s bank account
- Transfers happen almost instantly – in 30 minutes or less
- Send up to $10,000 in a single transaction
- No fee for senders or recipients at most financial institutions
- Encrypted end-to-end security and audit trails
To send an e-Transfer, the sender logs into online or mobile banking, enters the recipient’s email or phone number, amount to send, and an optional security question. The recipient then deposits the money using online/mobile banking or at ATMs.
In 2021, over 249 million Interac e-Transfer transactions took place totaling $447 billion CAD in transfer volume. It continues to grow in popularity for its speed, ease-of-use, and security.
Benefits of Interac for Consumers and Businesses
As Canada’s leading payment network, Interac provides many benefits for individuals, businesses, and the broader economy:
- Accepted everywhere, providing payment convenience and flexibility
- Tap and go for fast, simple small dollar purchases under $100
- Greater fraud protection with chip and PIN security
- Easy money transfers to other Canadians with Interac e-Transfer
- Increases sales by meeting customer payment preferences
- Reduces risk and transaction costs compared to cash and cheques
- Fast access to funds with same or next day settlement
- Fraud protection on debit transactions
- Lower interchange fees than credit cards
- Enables efficient flow of funds across the economy
- Provides infrastructure for digital transactions and payments
- Contributes to economic growth through enabling spending
- Supports innovation in digital banking and fintech
By connecting consumers, businesses, and financial institutions coast-to-coast, Interac strengthens Canada’s payments ecosystem and financial competitiveness.
How Interac Works
Interac utilizes sophisticated technology and processes to enable seamless transmission of payment information between payors and payees. Here is a high-level overview of how Interac payments work:
Interac Debit Payments
- Customer initiates payment using their Interac debit card at point-of-sale or online checkout.
- Merchant submits transaction details including amount to Interac through their payment processor.
- Interac routes the transaction to the cardholder’s financial institution for authorization based on available funds and fraud checks.
- If approved, the funds are placed on hold and the merchant is notified of the authorized transaction.
- Merchant completes the sale and the customer receives their goods or services.
- Through the banking system, Interac initiates the settlement process to transfer funds from the customer’s account to the merchant’s account.
- Funds are deposited into the merchant’s account, often within 24 hours or less.
- Interac provides transaction reporting, recordkeeping, and dispute resolution services.
- Sender logs into their financial institution’s online or mobile banking and enters recipient details (email or mobile number), amount, and security question/answer if desired.
- Interac verifies the transaction details and sends a secure link to the recipient for deposit.
- Recipient follows deposit instructions, confirming name, account, and security answer if required.
- Interac facilitates the transfer of funds from the sender’s account to the recipient’s account through the banking system.
- Transaction is completed when funds are deposited into the recipient’s account, typically within 30 minutes.
- Interac provides senders transaction reporting and manages inquiries and dispute resolution if needed.
The Future of Interac
As a leader in digital payments and transfers, Interac is focused on continuous innovation to bring faster, more secure, and integrated payment experiences to Canadians.
Some areas of focus include:
- Enhancing debit security with biometrics and other authentication methods
- Expanding debit access through virtual cards for digital wallets
- Integrating Interac services into additional apps and platforms
- Supporting new in-app and in-browser payment options
- Using data insights to provide value-added services to users
- Pursuing global growth opportunities beyond Canada
Even in a world rapidly adopting new payment technologies, the unique advantages of Interac as a national debit network and trusted e-Transfer provider will likely ensure its central role in Canada’s financial system for decades to come.