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Bank towers are photographed in Toronto’s Bay Street financial district on May 11, 2017.Gary Hershorn/The Globe and Mail

Toronto is steadily growing as a hub for financial services, piling on a larger proportion of the country's jobs at banks, insurers, asset managers and other firms.

The city's metro area makes up a third of all financial-sector employment in Canada, securing its status as a vital engine for growth, according to a Conference Board of Canada report released on Thursday.

Financial-services jobs now account for 8.5 per cent of all employment in the Toronto area, after growing at an average of 2.3 per cent a year for the past decade – well ahead of the 1.5-per-cent annual average across all other sectors.

With Toronto as the core, Canada's financial-services industry has grown at a healthy rate over the past 10 years, while firms extended their reach in other countries. But the sector's continued growth can't be taken for granted.

Major U.S. banking hubs such as New York and Chicago have seen their ranks of financial-services professionals shrink in that same span.

And while financial technology startups have added jobs in the short term, they are also helping drive advances in artificial intelligence and automation that could make many existing roles obsolete.

"I think there's that tension there, certainly," said Jennifer Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, which sponsored the Conference Board report. "But I think having a healthy fintech ecosystem here is important. … Innovation, no doubt, is the challenge in the financial sector, and making sure we're staying ahead."

With 808,100 jobs, financial services accounted for 4.5 per cent of all Canadian employment in 2016, and made up 7.2 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), rising from 6.8 per cent two years ago.

Toronto directly employed 272,280 people in financial services in 2016, from tellers to insurance agents – more than half of them in banking and one fifth in insurance. But the sector also supports another 115,224 jobs indirectly in the city, mostly in consulting, legal, accounting and computer services professions.

Over all, Canada is a net exporter of financial services: Total exports more than doubled over the past decade, reaching nearly $13-billion in 2016. More than half of that is to the United States, but the trade balance could shift due to uncertainty over negotiations to redraw the North American free-trade agreement, and as U.S. leaders adopt a protectionist stand.

Even so, Ms. Reynolds pointed to Canada's political and economic stability as well as its diversity as reasons Canada should continue to attract financial services talent. "Now is the time to go out and sell what a strength this is for Canada, and for our economy," she said.

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