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Bank of Montreal has chosen a new lead advertising agency, the latest in a string of agency shakeups in Canada's retail banking sector.

The country's fourth-largest bank has tapped Young & Rubicam to lead its advertising and branding work across North America. Four of the Big Five banks have put millions of dollars in agency relationships under review in a little over a year, signalling intensified competition in retail banking in this country. It also speaks to the banks' need to dedicate more of their marketing budgets to digital advertising in order to coax consumers to their operations.

"It's never been more of a complex environment in marketing than today, where we're trying to build our brand and also build new capabilities in digital," BMO's new chief marketing officer and head of strategy, Joanna Rotenberg, said in an interview Monday.

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In 2012, both Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto-Dominion Bank moved their business to new agencies. In September, Royal Bank of Canada confirmed to the Globe that it had issued a request for information for advertising services.

The change also comes as BMO undertakes a North American growth strategy with the development of its U.S. operations. The move this week comes as little surprise, since Y&R already handles the account for BMO Harris Bank south of the border. After Y&R also handled the advertising in Canada this summer for BMO's World Elite credit card, it was rumoured that the bank was considering a review of its 10-year relationship with its agency of record, Cossette.

Those rumours were confirmed in September, when Cossette resigned the account because it had been put up for review, and because it knew that an agency that could do work in the United States as well – where Cossette does not have a presence – would be a priority for BMO.

That means communicating in very different consumer environments – the U.S. has a much larger saturation of banking services, for example – while also bringing more consistency to BMO's marketing message, said Matt Anthony, CEO of Y&R in North America.

"We're looking to find that common architecture across the system, across North America, and also work to that unique culture of Canada and the U.S., and east to west within that context as well," he said.

In addition to putting a greater focus on retail banking, wealth management has also been an increasingly competitive area for banks. BMO has named a second agency relationship this week, appointing kbs+ canada to lead its branding and advertising for the wealth management business.

BMO is ditching the term "agency of record" to describe its relationship with Y&R, using a relatively newer term, "agency of collaboration," to connote a lead advertising firm that is also expected to work with other advertising partners. Many larger marketers opt to use more than one agency to produce work, sometimes for different strategic areas of the business or for media in which an agency will specialize – such as digital, mobile or social media.

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Results from the review of BMO's French-language advertising business, which Cossette also held, will be announced within the next couple of months.

All the agencies will be asked to focus on digital as a growing priority for the sector, however. More of BMO's advertising money will be put into digital, Ms. Rotenberg said.

"I don't think it's something in the water," she said of the changes in bank advertising recently. "It comes back to the fact that we are, at the heart of it, a consumer-driven sector. Look at it, 16 hours a day people spend with their smartphones now … Marketing teams everywhere – and I think I can speak to my brethren at other banks – we are being challenged to do our best when it comes to what consumers need, and their needs are changing rapidly."

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