Scotiabank focused on Latin America growth rather than Asia -CEO

TORONTO, April 8 Tue Apr 8, 2014 2:38pm EDT

TORONTO, April 8 (Reuters) - Bank of Nova Scotia has shifted its growth focus away from Asia, and will instead drive expansion in four Latin American countries as the bank seeks to focus on "fewer things," Chief Executive Brian Porter said on Tuesday.

The Canadian bank, which operates in more than 50 countries, mostly in Latin America and Asia, will seek growth in Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Chile, where Porter sees strong economic fundamentals and sound regulatory systems.

Porter has singled out those four countries at times since he took over as CEO in November from predecessor Rick Waugh.

But his comments on Tuesday at the bank's annual general meeting in Calgary - where he also prioritized cost cutting - made clear the bank is narrowing its focus from its days under Waugh, who also emphasized growth in Asia along with Latin America.

"In keeping with our increased focus on fewer things, going forward our primary emphasis is on Latin America," Porter said.

He said the bank was "comfortable with (its) footprint in Latin America," suggesting that he does not plan to enter new countries in the region.

Under Waugh, Scotiabank made more than C$10 billion worth of acquisitions since the financial crisis, including the C$3.1 billion ($2.84 billion) purchase of the Canadian online arm of Dutch lender ING Groep and the $1 billion purchase of 51 percent of Colombia's Banco Colpatria, both in 2012.

However, the bank's attempt to buy a 20 percent stake in China's Bank of Guangzhou fell apart last year after Chinese authorities decided against proceeding with the C$719 million deal.

Scotiabank's international operations are considered a strength of the bank, but the unit has produced middling results over the past two years due to higher costs and softness in some international markets.

Porter said the bank would work to expand its credit card business, reduce its structural costs and also wring efficiencies from recent acquisitions.

"We need to make greater use of more powerful levers. By that I mean innovative investments in technology and process improvements," he said.

"In short, our operations need to be faster, better and lower-cost." ($1 = 1.0930 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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