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Pedestrians pass by the Scotiabank location near Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The emergence of a middle class in Latin America is key to the growth strategy for the wealth and insurance business of Bank of Nova Scotia over the next three to five years.

In the immediate future, the bank sees a "significant opportunity" to grow in Canada, Chris Hodgson, who runs the unit, said in an interview Wednesday.

Look out a little further and the bank sees Latin America as the focus, he said.

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In Latin America "you are waiting for the market to come along," he said. The most immediate opportunity is in Mexico where "you are starting to see a growth in the middle class."

There is "more jobs, more manufacturing. That is going to lead to a little more prosperity, which is good from a wealth perspective but also from an insurance perspective."

Wealth management may be the hot topic for many banks, but Scotiabank's insurance segment is very crucial in the region. It is, as CIBC analyst Rob Sedran noted, "an underappreciated pillar" of Scotiabank's business.

Scotiabank sells a lot of creditor insurance, covering such things as mortgage payments, in the region, Mr. Hodgson said. That's driving growth rates of 20 per cent in some markets.

Looking beyond Latin America, a longer-term strategy is to increase wealth management in Asia.

That will be five years or more from now, and the bank will have a "niche strategy" seeking to find clients through relationships in areas such as corporate banking and commercial banking. Still, there is movement already, with Scotiabank and Bank of Beijing creating a joint venture that will launch a money market fund in Asia, he said.

In Canada, with consolidation afoot in wealth management, Scotiabank is looking mostly at organic growth in wealth management. When retail brokerage networks have come on the market, Scotiabank has looked, but more as a way of keeping tabs on the market , Mr. Hodgson said.

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"We are far more targeted on the adviser space in recruiting, targeting teams and the books of business," he said.

The bank also wants to upgrade its ability to sell funds and other wealth management products from branches, which requires putting more financial planners in Scotiabank locations. The bank lags some of its rivals in that regard, he said.

"We plan to address that by quite significantly increasing the number of people we have focused on that area," Mr. Hodgson said.

(Boyd Erman is a Globe and Mail Reporter & Streetwise Columnist.)

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