Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bank expanding its footprint in Winnipeg

Canadian Western well-positioned for growth

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CHRIS Fowler, the recently appointed president of the Canadian Western Bank, marvelled at the size of the new IKEA store, in whose shadow the Edmonton-based bank's newest branch is located.

"That must be the biggest IKEA in the world," he said.

It is the largest in Canada, and while the CWB is one of the smallest banks in the country, it has tracked consistently at double-digit growth just about every year for the past 20 years ago.

In 1990, it recorded assets of $400 million and now sits at $16 billion.

The bank is well-positioned as a regional operator considering Western Canada is where growth is occurring in this country.

Winnipeg is its eastern-most location and the CWB has been bullish on Manitoba for awhile.

It has had a branch in Winnipeg for 20 years and in 2010 it acquired National Leasing, the mid-sized equipment-leasing company that has proved to be an enduring success in a very competitive market.

With the combination of the new 7,000-square-foot branch, its original location on Portage Avenue and the National Leasing head office, the bank now employs more than 300 people in Manitoba, including 13 at the new branch.

New president Fowler (he will succeed longtime CEO Larry Pollock at the top spot in March when Pollock retires) said the bank is looking to further enhance its presence in what he calls "this key western Canadian market."

Boasting the lowest loan-loss ratio among banks in the country, the Canadian Western Bank does so by being targeted in its approach, Fowler said. That means, among other things, not competing with the likes of TD Canada Trust or the Royal Bank of Canada on the retail side.

It also means concentrating on lending to the small- and medium-sized enterprises in the West. Its sweet spot is loans between $250,000 and $50 million.

"How does the economy grow in Western Canada? By commodity extraction, construction and services," said Fowler.

"In our world we would lend to people who are participants, not the Exxons, Suncors or Syncrudes, but to the contractors that work for them -- the earthmovers, construction companies that build roads for oil fields, logging contractors... The entrepreneurs, not the large public companies."

In Winnipeg, CWB has been active in the booming real estate market, providing construction financing and mortgages for all sorts of developments in the city.

Fowler said there are excellent opportunities for growth in the CWB's niche markets in Manitoba and is confident enough that it built an additional development pad at its new south Winnipeg location in case there is an opportunity to expand the branch.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 B4

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Updated on Friday, November 9, 2012 at 9:35 AM CST: replaces photo

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