Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bank's CEO pays overdue visit to city

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CONSIDERING the importance of National Bank's two Manitoba acquisitions over the last five years, a visit by its president and CEO was long overdue.

Louis Vachon is quick to admit he likely should have taken a regional tour of the province after the Montreal-based bank purchased Bieber Securities back in 2008. And he definitely should have come after it bought Wellington West Capital nearly two years ago for $333 million.

"It was long overdue," Vachon said in a one-on-one interview at the Fairmont hotel Thursday afternoon. "But better late than never."

The 50-year-old's self-imposed guilt trip is due to the significant role both Winnipeg-based firms have played in National Bank Financial reaching its long-standing goal of having its wealth-management assets evenly split between Quebec and the rest of Canada. And they're going to continue to be important as NBF looks to build out its business in English Canada even further.

"We were underrepresented in Manitoba and in Saskatchewan. These transactions allowed us to have a much greater presence in this region," he said.

Just how much remains to be seen, but Vachon said he'd be happy to see a 55-45 split in favour of English Canada in three to five years. It could be even more if Canada's sixth-biggest bank is able to pull the trigger on another deal.

"We are always on the acquisition trail, but it has to make sense from a cultural standpoint first and a financial standpoint second, as it was with Wellington West and Bieber Securities," he said.

"The first part is, 'Do we like these people and do they like us? Can we work together?' In a people business like brokerage and banking, that is very important."

National Bank has a single bank branch and four brokerage offices in Manitoba. It has 120 employees and a book of $600 million of business loans.

There aren't any plans in the short term for more bricks and mortar, but Vachon believes there is room for growth on the wealth management and commercial banking sides.

It also recently renewed a 10-year agreement with Winnipeg-based mutual fund company Investors Group to provide a variety of products and services to its investment managers.

Vachon addressed a business luncheon of more than 300 people at the Fairmont hotel on Thursday before meeting with representatives from the province, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Yes! Winnipeg.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2013 B5

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