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Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's chief operating officer and head of its securities division, Richard Nesbitt, plans to retire late next year.

The move calls into question the succession plan for the country's fifth-largest lender by assets. Mr. Nesbitt, who joined the bank in 2008, was once thought to be a likely candidate for the role of chief executive officer, which is currently held by Gerry McCaughey.

Now Mr. Nesbitt has said he will exit in October, 2015, and no successor has been named for his role.

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At CIBC, Mr. Nesbitt was charged with getting the company's investment banking and trading business back on its feet after the recession hit.

"Richard has made significant contributions to CIBC, and the financial services industry as a whole, over the span of his exceptional career," Mr. McCaughey said in a statement.

Before he joined CIBC World Markets, the bank's securities business, Mr. Nesbitt was head of TSX Group Inc., which ran the Toronto Stock Exchange and other financial markets. He gained responsibilities over time, and soon managed CIBC's wholesale banking, international, technology and operations units. By 2011 he had emerged as the front-runner for the top job.

But that expectation was called into question last summer after Mr. McCaughey, who has been CEO since 2005, signed on for another four-year-term and named Mr. Nesbitt as chief operating officer– a move the bank said it did not consider a promotion.

Instead, Mr. McCaughey said the role was meant to "recognize the leadership role Richard has been playing at CIBC over the past two years …"

The exit of one of the bank's most senior, experienced leaders shines the spotlight on other executives in the wings. Unlike at some other banks, where the succession plan has largely been clear to outsiders, CIBC's plans are difficult to discern.

CIBC appointed Laura Dottori-Attanasio to chief risk officer at the same time Mr. Nesbitt took over as COO. She was the first woman to join the bank's senior leadership ranks in a couple of years.

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Ms. Dottori-Attanasio is considered a likely internal candidate for the chief executive role. She joined CIBC from the National Bank of Canada in 2009 on the securities and wholesale banking side and is now the chief risk officer for all of CIBC.

Other potential candidates for the top job include David Williamson, who heads retail and business banking, and Victor Dodig, who is head of wealth management.

For Mr. Nesbitt's job, one possible candidate is Rik Parkhill, a former deputy of Mr. Nesbitt's who is now heading CIBC's Caribbean operations. Harry Culham and Geoff Belsher, the group co-heads of wholesale banking, may also be considered.

With files from Tim Kiladze

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