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Jimmy Jeong

Almost exactly a month after financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. snapped up the 16-person investment dealer team at Versant Partners Inc., Canada's undersized tech sector is getting some attention.

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Shawn Matthews was in town Thursday for the company-sponsored Canadian Growth Technology Conference. He sought to hook hopeful tech firms up with some possible investors, but this was just the first phase in a bigger plan to get Canadian's to better recognize his firm's name.

The positioning around RIM's much-hyped earning report isn't a coincidence; the BlackBerry maker's recent struggles make for a black backdrop against which conference speakers such as CGI Group, Catamaran Corp. (formerly SXC Health Solutions) and Avigilon Corp. could showcase their significant share price returns.

But Cantor Fitzgerald's Canadian strategy isn't limited to tech or even mining, Versant's other specialty. Mr. Matthews thinks there's plenty of room for the company to grow along with the mid-level capital markets activity that Canada's big banks are giving up on. "The opportunity for us, looking at the financial landscape is that you have some major banks that are up here, and then there's really no one else -- there's a void after those guys," Mr. Matthews said after the conference.

He thinks the firm's global presence (and specialties in areas such as bond trading, clearing and research) will help. "The large financial institutions are in retrenchment mode. So they're going to continue to pull back, to scale back their operations, and from our perspective, we can take advantage of that."

It has been a tough year for many Canadian brokerages, with small firms especially feeling the strain. Cantor Fitzgerald will be one more competitor in the pack, and right now it thinks that the big banks have about 80 per cent of the market share. "That's the challenge," he said. "But we think we can be the biggest player outside of those banks. As the largest private investment bank in the world, we don't have handcuffs." They also don't answer to shareholders.

Laurence Rose, chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald Canada Corp., also spoke a the conference and thinks the main advantage will be cross-border initiatives. "Cantor's expanding in new verticals whether its real-estate or gaming, and we want to show that to Canadians" he says. For now, he's on a brand building mission to teach the country who Cantor is and what it can do.

Cantor Fitzgerald's brand is especially well-known in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks claimed more than two-thirds of its New York office (658 of its 950 staff died). The firm began a rapid rebuilding under the hand of Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of parent company Cantor Fitzgerald LP, and now, 11 years later, the firm is focused on expansion.

Mr. Matthews has set his sights on hiring roughly 800 people around the world in the next few years -- many of them coming from emerging markets such as South America. The firm also has a growing base of operations in Europe, including the London office that got a recent boost from the addition of 17 former Canaccord Genuity employees who formed an advisory group.