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The Bank Of Nova Scotia Business Information, Profile, and History

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History of The Bank Of Nova Scotia

The Bank of Nova Scotia, the second oldest bank in Canada, has more than 1,000 domestic offices as well as offices in 45 foreign countries. Scotiabank, as it is usually called, conducts its activities through four major divisions: retail banking and operations, Canadian commercial banking, North American corporate and investment banking, and international.

The first public financial institution in the colonial port city of Halifax, the Bank of Nova Scotia was formed on March 30, 1832 to handle the economic activity associated with the area's lumbering, fishing, farming, and foreign trade. None of the members of the first board of directors had any practical banking experience, but this did not deter them from setting up the necessary operations and appointing James Forman, a prominent citizen of Halifax, to serve as the first cashier (as the general manager was called then).

The bank officially opened in August, 1832, a time of unfavorable economic conditions because of massive crop failures and a cholera outbreak. Early development, therefore, focused on establishing a foreign exchange business with agents in New York, London, and Boston, while local agencies and the main office in Halifax concentrated on making domestic loans.

Over the next 30 years, the bank grew slowly in the face of increased competition from existing institutions, such as the Halifax Banking Company and the Bank of British North America, as well as from new banks opening throughout Nova Scotia. It was not until the early 1870s that the staff also determined that growth had been stunted by Mr. Forman's embezzlement of $315,000 since 1844.

The bank gradually recovered from these losses through the efforts of Forman's successor, William C. Menzies, who guided an expansion program that increased total assets to $3.5 million by 1875. Though local industry was declining, growth continued throughout the decade as the bank found opportunities in financing coal mining, iron, and steel businesses serving the railway and steamship lines. These improvements in transportation stimulated manufacturing throughout Canada, which also served to fuel the bank's development.

The Bank of Nova Scotia expanded outside the maritime provinces in 1882, when it opened a branch in Winnipeg to take advantage of opportunities created by a real estate boom in the area. The boom collapsed within six months, however, saddling the bank with enormous losses and forcing the branch to close three years later.

In 1883, the Bank of Nova Scotia acquired the Union Bank of Price Edward Island. This bank had sought a larger, stronger institution to help it weather hard times that had already forced the liquidation of one local bank and were seriously affecting others in the area. By the end of that year, the Bank of Nova Scotia was operating 23 branches in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Although a depression in Canada in the early 1880s caused heavy losses stemming from the failure of several businesses, the bank had rebounded enough by 1885 to consider further expansion, this time in the United States. Minneapolis was chosen, because of its strong grain and manufacturing industries, to be the initial site for a direct lending and foreign exchange business. This office closed seven years later when the local environment became less favorable and other cities, such as Chicago, showed more potential.

In 1888, the bank opened an office in Montreal in a second attempt to establish a domestic presence outside of the maritime provinces. This office was followed a year later by an office in Kingston, Jamaica, the first time a Canadian bank had expanded outside North America or the United Kingdom. The next new branch opened in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1894 to handle the business of two local institutions that had dissolved suddenly. Credit for this vigorous expansion goes to Thomas Fyshe, who became cashier in 1876 and resigned in 1897 after 21 years with the bank.

In March, 1900 the bank moved its headquarters to Toronto, to be better able to take advantage of opportunities offered by the Klondike Gold Rush and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as to be closer to its other branches in Canada and the United States. Its move into western Canada was only somewhat successful, however; several unprofitable branches closed soon after they opened, while others in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver were slow to make a profit. Nonetheless, the bank considered expansion a necessary part of its overall strategic plan to achieve national growth and avoid takeover by another institution. Development in the East was more successful; 19 new branches opened in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 16 opened in Ontario, and four opened in Quebec between 1897 and 1909.

Beginning in 1901, Henry C. McLeod, who served as general manager from 1897 to 1910, waged a campaign to require all Canadian banks to undergo external inspection by the Canadian Department of Finance. This effort, prompted by the large number of bank failures that had occurred since 1895, was intended to win the public's confidence in its financial institutions. None of the other Canadian banks supported him, so, impatient with the government's inactivity on the issue, McLeod subjected the Bank of Nova Scotia to examination by two Scottish accountants, making his the first Canadian chartered bank to be verified by an independent, external audit. McLeod didn't win his battle until 1913, when the Bank Act was revised and such inspection became compulsory.

Between 1910 and 1920 the bank embarked upon a series of major acquisitions that significantly altered its size and the scope of its operations. After two years of informal discussions, the bank officially merged with the oldest Canadian chartered bank, the Bank of New Brunswick, on December 11, 1912. The Bank of New Brunswick was a relatively small institution, confined to 31 branches in a single region and lacking the resources to expand due to its traditional practice of returning capital to shareholders. In 1914, with the acquisition of the 12-year-old Toronto-based Metropolitan Bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia became the fourth largest financial institution in Canada. Five years later, the Bank of Nova Scotia acquired the Bank of Ottawa, allowing it to expand westward again without having to establish new branches.

Joining other Canadian financial institutions in the war effort during World War I, Scotiabank experienced only minor disruptions in operations and staffing and returned to normal upon the war's end.

During the early 1920s, the bank slowed the pace of external growth to focus its attention on consolidating the operations of the three prewar acquisitions and reorganizing its departments for greater efficiency. An Investment Department was also formed to handle securities transactions, which represented a significant amount of the bank's business in Toronto, Montreal, and New York.

The strong postwar recovery brought healthy earnings throughout most of the decade, until the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent depression. Between 1933 and 1935, the bank closed 19 domestic branches as profits dropped by half a million dollars, to C$1.8 million. Business conditions in Newfoundland deteriorated, the radical Social Credit Party rose to power in Alberta and enacted troublesome legislation there, and political difficulties in Cuba and Puerto Rico pressured international activities.

Economic recovery went up and down between 1936 and 1939 as the positive effects of the growing Canadian mining industry were offset by a drought in the West. The bank's asset base continued to grow, but not without some managerial concern--it consisted largely of loans to the government for relief funds, rather than higher-yielding commercial transactions.

World War II increased the demand for banking services, particularly by the government for financing the war. By the end of the war the bank's assets had surpassed $600 million, but federal government securities represented 50% of the total.

In 1945, the new general manager, Horace L. Enman, renewed prewar efforts to explore new business opportunities and improve shareholders' returns. Buoyed by heavy immigration to Canada and the nation's need for capital, the bank's commercial loan activity increased after the war to restore a more favorable balance between lending to business concerns and to the government. In 1949, Enman became president and C. Sydney Frost became general manager. By this time the bank's rapid growth and extensive reach demanded greater decentralization. Regional offices gradually assumed responsibility for staffing and maintaining branch activities and credit supervision. By 1950, the bank had opened 90 new branches, half in British Columbia and Alberta.

The 1950s were a period of economic prosperity throughout Canada. Resource development and improvements in transportation increased immigration levels in major Canadian cities and provided a stimulus to growth. The change from a fixed to a floating official exchange rate allowed the bank to take advantage of the open market for the Canadian dollar and enhance its exchange-trading skills. When the National Housing Act was passed in 1954, the bank established a mortgage department, and it later developed a secondary mortgage market among pension funds to offset decreased lending activity. The bank also introduced an insured savings plan that brought in a substantial amount of new business, and more importantly, gave the bank a competitive advantage in selling banking services.

A change in the Bank Act in 1954 permitted banks to make automobile and household loans, prompting the bank to introduce a consumer credit program in 1958. In order for the bank to observe the 6% interest rate ceiling mandated by the Bank Act yet successfully operate in the consumer lending area on a large-scale basis, these loans required customers to deposit payments every month into a bank account that would pay off the loan by the due date and return a higher rate of interest to the bank over the life of the loan. By its second year, this plan had generated $100 million in loans and become a major contributor to the bank's overall earnings. When, in 1959, a money squeeze threatened its lending activity volume, the bank introduced a one-to-six-year term note that allowed it to compete successfully with finance and trust companies.

The bank continued its international expansion during this period, particularly in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados, although the nationalization of Cuban banks in 1961 forced it, regretfully, to close the eight branches it had established there at the beginning of the century.

In 1958, the bank joined with British financial interests to form the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company to engage in offshore and trust operations which were off-limits to foreign banks. A year later, the Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company of New York was established.

Beginning in 1960, the bank aggressively pursued a strategy to increase its volume of deposits by resuming the establishment of new branches in Canada as well as abroad. This inflow of funds was required to support the bank's consumer credit operations while also meeting the demand for mortgages and short-term commercial loans. More than 60% of these new branches were in convenient suburban locations to attract new customers in and around Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and Calgary. Coupled with new products like term notes, certificates of deposit, and six-year certificates, this campaign increased the volume of personal savings deposits by 50% between 1960 and 1965.

This increased activity also enabled the bank to maintain its presence in the financial services industry despite the ceiling on lending rates, which had virtually eliminated the bank from competing effectively against trust and finance companies in all areas except for personal loans. During this time, the bank also increased its mortgage involvement by joining with two other partners to form three new ventures: Markborough Properties, a real estate company; the Mortgage Insurance Company of Canada; and Central Covenants, a mortgage financing company.

In 1963, the bank underwent a major internal reorganization, and a new profit planning system was introduced which required each branch and region to submit annual loan and deposit forecasts to be incorporated into the bank's overall plan. This system allowed the bank to further decentralize operations, to encourage competition among branches, and to better identify the services its customers wanted.

Meanwhile, business in the Caribbean continued to grow, despite losses in Cuba. Much of this growth was hotel and resort financing in areas like Jamaica and Puerto Rico, where tourism was becoming big business. The bank also opened branches in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Munich, Beirut, and Tokyo. Its international division became a major player in the Eurodollar market at this time.

During the early 1960s, the bank also worked to establish a stronger presence in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles and Houston, by offering financing and deposit opportunities for U.S. corporations in addition to international tax services. These efforts fueled the bank's accelerated growth in the second half of the decade.

At home, the early 1970s saw strong personal and small business lending activity, leading the bank to launch a number of new services, including automobile financing and a farm program to meet credit needs in the agricultural sector. Lending activity shifted significantly toward commercial concerns, particularly retail accounts, later that decade as inflation increased daily operational costs for Canadian businesses.

Actively involved in the precious metals market since 1958, the bank expanded this business throughout the 1970s by buying two-thirds of the country's annual production and then selling actual bullion and bullion certificates. It was also during this period that the rising expenses of branch development caused the bank to refocus its emphasis from opening new offices within Canada to improving existing operations and relocating branches to more lucrative areas.

In 1972, the bank was sued by VK Mason Construction Ltd. for negligent misrepresentation related to the building of an office and shopping complex. The contractor had required assurance from the bank that the developer, Courtot Investments, had sufficient financing to finish the construction before it would agree to take on the job, and Scotiabank had informed Mason that interim financing was available to Courtot if needed. When the project was completed, Mason was paid C$1 million less than had been agreed and found that, rather than helping the developer pay its creditors, the bank called in its own loan and sold the complex when Courtot defaulted.

The Supreme Court of Canada found against the bank, though it affirmed the bank's right of first claim on the developer's assets as the mortgagee. Mason was permitted to collect damages by placing a lien on the bank's assets without having to compete with other Courtot creditors.

Organizational changes at the general office were made in the second half of the 1970s which created separate departments for each of the bank's three main customer categories: individual, commercial, and large corporate. In 1980 an operations department was formed to consolidate many of the branch, regional, and head office functions into one area, a move which signaled a shift away from decentralization toward more direct headquarters control.

The bank's total assets reached C$50 billion by the end of 1981, with international business growing twice as fast as domestic operations and at a higher rate than that of any other Canadian bank. This growth was attributed to many factors, including the bank's established European and American presence, its expansion into Asia and the Pacific, and the development of a worldwide foreign exchange and banking system that operated around the clock. The year also saw the historic opening of the first and only Canadian banking branch in China.

Although a downturn in the economy during 1983 forced the bank to temporarily curtail expansion, its focus on smaller companies saved it from the large-scale losses other Canadian banks suffered from loans made to failing firms like Dome Petroleum and Massey-Ferguson, and to Mexico, Brazil, and Poland.

This focus on smaller companies and individuals did create image problems in the corporate and commercial areas. To counter the perception that the bank was not fully committed to businesses, Scotiabank embarked upon an extensive, innovative advertising campaign in 1986 using customers' case histories and games of visual illusion to show the various ways that the bank had helped companies.

During the first half of the 1980s, the bank was accused of wrongdoing in a series of cases stemming from its activities both at home and abroad. In March, 1983, the bank was asked by a Miami court to release records from its Cayman Islands branch concerning certain customers under investigation for narcotics and tax violations. Although the bank was protected under Cayman Island law from such releases, a Florida judge ruled that the bank stood in contempt of court and fined it $25,000 a day, retroactive to November 1983, for each day it did not produce the records. In order to end a stalemate which could have forced the bank into bankruptcy, the Cayman Islands Governor-in-Council intervened to authorize the bank to supply the required information, but not before the fine had reached US$1.8 million. The bank lost its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in January, 1985.

In 1984 the bank, along with four other Canadian banks, was the subject of a one-year investigation by the Royal Commission of the Bahamas into drug dealing and money laundering by Bahamian Prime Minister Pindling and his wife. Scotiabank had lent more than $1 million to Pindling between 1977 and 1983 and had also accepted deposits from the couple totalling $114,000 from an unidentified source. Although the investigation was inconclusive, it cast a cloud on a 1985 case alleging that the bank had committed fraud against the Investment Dealers Association of Canada in its involvement in the failure of Atlantic Securities Ltd. in 1981. Although this case generated much controversy, the Nova Scotia County Court acquitted the bank.

In 1987 Scotiabank further penetrated the financial services market with the formation of Scotia Securities. This new subsidiary, providing discount brokerage and security underwriting services, allowed the bank to compete more effectively with investment banking firms.

Presently, the Bank of Nova Scotia is pursuing a strategy of global operations to assure profitability regardless of any fluctuations in individual markets. Competing successfully with both domestic and foreign banks will require greater investment in new services to attract new accounts, as well as improved efficiency to continue to deliver personalized attention to the bank's current customers. Although Scotiabank shares the dilemmas of other financial institutions in coping with the problems of outstanding Third World debt, and also faces the continuing challenge of inflation at home, the bank and its current chairman, Cedric E. Ritchie, look forward to the coming decades with the enthusiasm and confidence that have characterized its development over the past 150 years.

Principal Subsidiaries: BNS Australia Pty. Ltd.; BNS International (Hong Kong) Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia International (Curacao) N.V.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Asia Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Channel Islands Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia International Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Properties Inc.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Trinidad and Tobago Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company (Bahamas) Ltd.; The Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company of New York; BNS International (Ireland) Ltd.; BNS International (United Kingdom) Ltd.; Scotiabank (U.K.) Ltd.; Brunswick Square Ltd.; Calgary Centre Holdings Ltd.; Chargex Ltd.; Empire Realty (Cayman) Ltd.; Export Finance Corporation of Canada,Ltd.; First Southern Bank Ltd.; Fredericton Developments Ltd.; JPM, Inc.; Maduro & Curiel's Bank N.V.; MHM Property Ltd.; The Nova Scotia Corp.; Scotia Centre Ltd.; Scotia Leasing Ltd.; Scotia Mortgage Corporation; Scotia Realty Antilles N.V.; Scotia Realty Ltd.; Scotia Securities Inc.; Scotiabank de Puerto Rico; Scotia Export Finance Corp.; Scotia Factors (1985) Ltd.; Scotia Futures Ltd.; WBM, Inc.; The West India Company of Merchant Bankers Ltd.

Additional topics

Company HistoryFinance: Holding Companies

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