Scotiabank sees growth potential, regulatory risk

Mon Nov 2, 2009 3:06pm EST

* Says growth opportunities are emerging

* Warns of over-regulation of financial sector

By Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO, Nov 2 (Reuters) - The head of Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) said on Monday that growth opportunities were emerging for Canada's third largest bank, but warned that regulatory uncertainty was a huge risk to global growth.

Scotiabank Chief Executive Rick Waugh said his bank -- like other Canadian lenders -- emerged from the global financial crisis in relatively good shape, and was now looking for growth opportunities as rivals are recovering.

"We do have opportunities to grow, so that (our risk) committee is not just there to say no, it's to make sure that our risk appetite and the amount of risk that we take is sound and profitable -- and we are looking to grow," Waugh told reporters following a speech on regulatory reform in Toronto.

Scotiabank is the most international of Canada's big five banks, with operations in much of Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia. It has said it is looking for acquisition opportunities that fit its strategy of starting small in emerging markets and growing into a big local presence.

But Waugh, who served as co-chair of the Institute of International Finance's (IIF) best-practices committee, said there are worrying regulatory trends that risk doing too much too fast in response to the financial crisis.

"Right now, there are some disturbing suggestions being put forward in a number of international jurisdictions on how to structure and regulate the global financial sector to prevent further crisis," Waugh said in his speech to the Canadian Club.

He warned proposals must be considered with care.

"We must not try to fix things too quickly, or go too far and risk the probability of unintended consequences in restoring economic growth and financial stability."

Waugh argued that the Canadian financial system can be improved but is not broken -- suggesting that he, like many Canadian executives, is worried that overzealous regulators may force changes even in countries that weathered the crisis well.

"We also have to recognize for the next few years one of the most significant threats to economic growth is the uncertainty of regulatory reforms in some of the major markets in the world," Waugh told reporters.

In his speech, Waugh said big and small financial institutions alike must be allowed to fail, but in an "orderly and controlled" way. (Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; editing by Rob Wilson)