Bank of Nova Scotia chief executive officer Brian Porter won't come right out and say it, but it's pretty clear foreign acquisitions are on his radar.
Already flush with capital and expected to boost its cash pile by selling its stake in CI Financial, Scotiabank is in the perfect position to strike a deal.
When asked if he's ready to buy, Mr. Porter won't confirm that he's intent on making a purchase, but he also won't steer people away from the idea. His nuanced answer to questions on Tuesday's conference call: "We do have a pipeline of acquisitions that we are looking at periodically."
When asked whether the bank would eventually beef up its new, small share repurchase program, which was announced Tuesday, Mr. Porter said more buybacks shouldn't be expected, and instead suggested the money for such a plan would be better spent on acquisitions.
So where exactly would Scotiabank buy? The most likely answer is abroad – especially Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico, which Mr. Porter has singled out as the four countries he wants to focus on. Scotiabank is particularly keen on expanding in wealth management in these countries and has already inked recent deals in the sector, including buying 50 per cent of Peruvian pension fund manager AFP Horizonte in 2013.
Managing retirement assets is lucrative in Latin America because few countries have government-run programs like the Canada Pension Plan. Instead, the norm is for a portion of each employee's paycheque to go into a defined contribution account, which can then be overseen by an asset manager.
Lending credence to the foreign acquisition theory, Mr. Porter also said Tuesday that he hopes to expand the portion of Scotiabank's profit that is generated abroad. Currently 43 per cent of earnings come from beyond Canada's borders, and he would be comfortable with that number reaching as high as 50 per cent.
"I think that we could grow the international piece over time in a thoughtful and deliberate way to 50/50," he said. "Beyond that, I think we've got to think what the appropriate balance is."
But don't count out deals at home. Aside from wealth management, Scotiabank is also particularly hot on credit cards, leading to its recent partnership with Canadian Tire Financial Services that saw Scotiabank buy a 20 per cent stake in the company – Canada's eighth-largest credit card issuer – for $500-million. Mr. Porter reiterated his commitment to expanding Scotiabank's credit card footprint again on Tuesday.