BMO Sees Expansion in Midwest U.S. As Creating Need for Retail, Commercial and Wealth Management Pros

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Bank of Montreal Chief Executive William Downe is banking on continued expansion in the U.S., particularly in in places like Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota-promising career opportunities a-plenty for retail lenders and wealth management professionals.

In a related development, Bloomberg is reporting that BMO plans to hire 90 bankers specializing in small business owners. According to Bloomberg, building a nationwide team of small-business bankers is part of the Toronto-based company's strategy to help counter an anticipated slowdown in consumer banking and CEO Downe has said it's "critically important" to concentrate on commercial accounts as the economy rebounds.

Downe boasted recently that BMO expects to expand its profit from U.S. consumer banking by no less than C$1 billion-a fivefold increase-now that the Canada powerhouse is pruning so many new ventures on U.S. soil.

"Within your own footprint, the return on either opening branches or buying branches is much more positive," Downe said, referring to his five-fold earnings increase projection. Edward Jones & Co. analyst Craig Fehr went so far as to call that increase "achievable," however ambitious, given the incredible "sea change" that U.S. ownership has created for the Canadian institution.

BMO purchased failing Wisconsin lender Marshall & Ilsley Corp. for $4.1 billion late last year, after the Milwaukee-based company had posted eight straight quarterly losses at a time when Bank of Montreal had reported six consecutive quarters of earnings growth.

In April, 2010, Toronto-based MNO also reported that its Harris Bank unit in Chicago it would acquire assets and liabilities of former U.S. lender Amcore from the FDIC in a deal that promised to give Harris 52 new bank branches in Illinois and Wisconsin. Since expanding into the U.S. with its takeover of Harris Bank in 1984, BMO has spent about C$2.5 billion buying U.S. banks, incorporating branches into its Harris network.

Areas of expertise that might be sought...

Marshall & Isley offers personal, commercial, small business and wealth management services, while Amcore's portfolio consisted of 23 percent consumer loans with the balance split between commercial and industrial loans and commercial real estate loans at the time of BMO's Amcore acquisition last December.

Experts suggested then that as big Canadian banks like BMO continued to expand retail networks on both sides of the border, new searches for credit analysts, commercial lenders, risk managers, internal auditors, and finance professionals could very well be in the wings.

That seems even more likely now, when Downe is predicting more U.S. branches for BMO than ever before.

"We have 900 bank branches in Canada, we'll [soon] have 700 in the United States, and last year we made C$1.6 billion in Canada," BMO's Bloomberg reports Downe saying.

The CEO also said that he foresees further acquisitions in the Midwest in the future, particularly in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"I think there are plenty of in-fill opportunities in this area," he concluded, suggesting a need to "fill in" with new banking talent wherever BMO puts down new roots.

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