WHEN it comes to a symbolic indication of this region’s status as a growing economy, the fact the Bank of Montreal has reestablished a senior vice-president’s office in Winnipeg after close to 15 years without one is a good sign.
John MacAulay, who formerly served as district vice-president for Manitoba and northwestern Ontario for five years, has returned to Winnipeg after three years in Toronto running part of the GTA region for the bank. This time he’s back as senior vice-president of an even larger region that includes Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario. Just as the closure of the banks’ senior v-p offices in Winnipeg at the end of the no-growth ’90s was emblematic of all that was wrong with the local economy, BMO’s return happens when much is looking up here.
"We think it’s all degrees of good," MacAulay said. "It’s a very big investment for us."
“I see more progress made in the last three years than I think I saw in the previous 10 years downtown.”
— BMO senior VP John MacAulay
In his last posting in Winnipeg as vice-president MacAulay reported to BMO’s senior vice-president in Calgary. Now he reports directly to the bank’s president and CEO of personal and commercial banking in Toronto.
"The bank made the decision to make an investment in this region of the country for a number of good reasons," MacAulay said. "We did a lot of analysis and talked to a bunch of customers and clearly there is something happening in the Prairies region."
From his own observations, Mac-Aulay is impressed with the vitality and activity, especially downtown, since he left three years ago.
"I see more progress made in the last three years than I think I saw in the previous 10 years downtown," he said.
In addition to more senior decisionmaking residing here, the bank has also appointed its first vice-president for Winnipeg, Paul Seipp, and a vicepresident for Brandon, Kristen Kennedy.
And as a profitable 136-year-old enterprise — whose grand old Portage and Main branch celebrated its 100th anniversary this year — BMO is upping the ante because it believes there is more business to be had.
"A lot of it has to do with talking to our customers," MacAulay said. "The feedback we got from them is that they are growing. They are expanding their relationship with us. It’s a good time to expand our presence in the region."
Access to capital has always been one of the bugaboos of the local economy. Whether it was a perceived or real detriment to business’s access to bank financing, the closure of those senior vice-president’s offices was certainly a hit to the city’s prestige.
MacAulay said having a more highranking banking presence in town will have a tangible effect.
"For instance, when it comes to commercial credit decisions between myself and our commercial credit manager, the two of us can make decisions on $25 million in an afternoon," he said. "And $25 million represents the vast majority of our customers."
In many cases, timely response to credit requests is as important as the total value of the credit request.
That, and the confidence those decision- makers have boots on the ground and really know what’s going on with their clients.
"Customers like to know the person who is making the decision," MacAulay said.
"Local decisions made by people who live and work in the community. That’s important to our customers."