Canadian banks play "O Canada" card to grow abroad

Mon Feb 27, 2012 12:51pm EST
 
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By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - When Royal Bank of Canada created advertising for its European wealth management business last year, it built some ads around the image of a shimmering gold maple leaf, playing on Canada's reputation for financial prudence.

Embarking on an aggressive expansion, Canada's largest bank wanted to emphasize its roots in a country whose banking sector wins plaudits as the soundest in the world. With Europe's debt crisis dominating the headlines, it was a message designed to resonate with prospective customers.

"We actually restructured some of the launch ads to dial up the Canadianness, because all of the research was demonstrating that is a value to the consumer right now," said Jim Little, chief brand officer with Royal Bank. "If instability is sadly the word of the day in Europe, then stability in Canada is a good message to lead with."

Royal's ad strategy is just one example of a shift in tactics by Canadian banks, which were once seen as a backwater bastion of stodginess.

Far from hiding their roots, now Royal and other Toronto-based banks believe the strength of the Canadian brand can help them close foreign expansion deals and win over Europeans and Americans who have lost faith in local lenders.

Bank of Montreal, the country's fourth-largest bank, has rebranded its U.S. Harris Bank arm as BMO Harris Bank, adding a Canadian link to what is now one of the biggest personal and commercial banks in the U.S. Midwest.

BMO, based in Toronto, Canada's financial center, made the move when it added Wisconsin bank Marshall & Isley to its existing Harris Bank network last year.

"We have never run from the fact that we were owned by a Toronto-based organization, but it's never been as critical as it is today, just because of the safety and soundness that the Canadian banking system has," said Dave Casper, head of U.S. commercial banking at BMO.   Continued...

 
A Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) sign is seen in downtown Toronto, March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch