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Toronto bank towers and skyline Nov. 10, 2010.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Investment banks and brokerages with head offices beyond Canada's borders have packed up and scaled back, but Raymond James says now is the time to be building its business.

"People are too short term," said Paul Reilly, chief executive officer of Raymond James Finanacial, in an interview.

"A lot of times people get out of markets when they're tough," he said, alluding to the likes of Sitfel Nicolaus, which recently shut its Canadian outfit, "but our view is [that] it's the time to invest. When markets are down it's the best time to buy or bring people over."

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He's realistic about his attempts. "We're not going to be the biggest." But scale is less important than longevity to Mr. Reilly, who said his focus is on what's good for the firm five years from now.

Raymond James is best known for its private client arm, and today about 60 per cent of its revenues still come from this business. But the firm has been branching out, and in Canada it has added weight in investment banking, recently hiring Gavin McOuat as co-head of its mining team and oil and gas research analysts in Calgary.

But hiring is the easy part, and generating revenue is a much tougher task, particularly when there is a dearth of deals in the mining space. Until very recently, the energy sector also struggled to bring in fees.

On the wealth side, increasing competition for the dollars of Canada's boomers has reached a fever pitch, especially because the business is capital-light and low-risk. And it is especially tough for an independent to compete with the Big Six Canadian lenders whose scale, product offerings and distribution makes them fearsome competitors.

Mr. Reilly and Paul Allison, Raymond James' Canadian head, didn't dispute that assessment, but they also stressed that there can be some advantages to Canada's close-knit banking system.

For instance, Raymond is looking to expand its corporate lending arm after acquiring the Canadian assets of Allied Irish Banks in 2011, and lending spreads are much more attractive here because there is less competition for loans. South of the border, everyone from banks to shadow banks to hedge funds are willing to lend money, and that hurts loan margins and covenant quality.

"The discipline in the Canadian system is much more like our corporate attitude of how we like to do business," Mr. Reilly said.

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The CEO also stressed that he doesn't need to make a quick buck. The business is profitable in Canada, and he's willing to take his time to test out the Canadian landscape. "If we have to go slow, it's okay, we'll go slow," he said.

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