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Canadian bank headquarters stand on Bay Street in Toronto.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Financial executives polled at the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services' annual conference on Tuesday identified competition from rising financial technology competitors, or fintech rivals, as a key risk to incumbent players, suggesting that the sector has emerged as hot topic among bankers.

According to a poll of 180 senior Canadian financial executives, 83 per cent agreed that Canadian financial institutions were vulnerable to technological disruption, essentially lending credence to some of the more alarming warnings that the so-called fintech sector is poised to take significant market share from the banks.

"That doesn't mean that financial services companies don't have strategies that they are executing to deal with this," said Richard Nesbitt, president and chief executive officer of the Toronto-based Global Risk Institute (GRI) and formerly chief operating officer of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. "But they are vulnerable if they don't execute those strategies."

Tiff Macklem, chair of GRI and former deputy governor at the Bank of Canada, said that executives in previous years would probably have pointed to risks associated with the changing regulatory environment, slowing economic growth in China and tumbling commodity prices.

"It's not as if those risks have gone away, but at [the top levels of financial institutions] they have been dealing with these risks for a while. The new risk, which has risen rapidly, is associated with new competitors, most of whom are not financial companies," Mr. Macklem said.

The poll also revealed that 84 per cent of respondents agreed that the Canadian housing market is vulnerable to a price decline, suggesting more concern about the housing market than has been voiced publicly by the Canadian banks. A number of bank economists and executives have said that demand for single-family homes is stronger than supply, and that the overall market is supported by strong demographics and stable economic activity.

"The possibility of a price decrease is in the parlance of people, and it is being talked about, and that is something that I think is new," Mr. Nesbitt said. "If the price decrease is moderate, of course, that would not constitute a major risk for financial services companies. It's only if it's large and sustained that this becomes a risk."