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An HSBC bank on Spadina Ave. in Toronto.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

HSBC Holdings PLC, the London-based bank that's scaling back across the globe, considers Canada a priority market and sees future growth working with clients on international commerce, according to its top executive in the country.

"Trade is our big opportunity here in Canada," Sandra Stuart, chief executive officer of HSBC Bank Canada, said in a Oct. 9 interview at Bloomberg's Toronto office. "We're part of HSBC Group in 72 countries and we cover 90 per cent of the trade flows of the world. Nobody in the world can do that. There's no global bank that touches as many corridors as we do."

A softening domestic economy coupled with low interest rates, tighter margins, higher compliance costs and a weakening Canadian dollar have pressured the unit's revenue, Ms. Stuart said. With more than 50 international trade agreements, the country offers HSBC opportunities to provide companies with services including foreign exchange, payments and cash management, she said.

CEO Stuart Gulliver has sought to pare HSBC's sprawling geographic spread, shutting money-losing operations and eliminating jobs amid declining profitability. The lender is expanding in Asia while putting operations in Turkey and Brazil up for sale. Since taking over in 2011, Mr. Gulliver has cut more than 87,000 jobs, exited about 78 businesses and reduced the number of countries the bank operates in. HSBC shares fell 0.5 per cent to 518.1 pence at 2:31 p.m. in London.

The Canadian unit is a "Top 5" producer of profit before taxes for HSBC, Ms. Stuart said, who's run the business from Vancouver since June. The country contributes 4.4 per cent of total profit for the global bank, putting Canada in good standing when HSBC is retreating from underperforming businesses and markets, she said.

"Canada is one of the 20 priority growth markets," Ms. Stuart, 52, said.

HSBC has been in Canada for 34 years, expanding through takeovers of domestic lenders and the Canadian operations of foreign banks to become the country's seventh-largest lender with $89.4-billion in assets. Commercial banking accounts for 60 per cent of the firm's Canadian revenue, while its global banking and markets operations contribute 30 per cent and retail banking and wealth management account for the balance.

HSBC, which has 145 branches across Canada, doesn't plan to compete directly in retail banking with larger domestic rivals, Ms. Stuart said. Still, the lender is interested in being competitive in areas such as debt capital markets and project financing, she said.

"We don't look like the domestics and we don't want to," Ms. Stuart said. "We are the largest foreign bank in the country and no domestic bank has our international reach and no foreign banks has our domestic reach. So that's our opportunity."

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