Modern office building close up in sunlight

Canadian Western Bank has a new regional wealth hub and banking centre in Toronto to help it target business-owner clients, offering an alternative to the Big Six banks.

Stephen Murphy, group head of commercial, personal and wealth at the Edmonton-based bank, said the downtown location is convenient for business owners even if they’re located in other areas. “You’re leveraging that that’s where all the other banks are,” he said.

In September, CWB completed the move of 14 Toronto-based CWB Wealth advisors into its office tower on Adelaide Street, consolidating its office space in the city. In November, CWB opened a branch at the location, offering clients commercial and personal banking services.

Murphy said he’d underestimated the benefit of “having a tower with your logo on it” in the financial district. “It really kind of amplifies our visibility [with clients] as a national player.”

The moves are part of the bank’s broader initiative to build out its business in Ontario, which began in 2020 when CWB opened a full-service branch in Mississauga, just outside Toronto. In 2022, it opened another branch in Markham, north of Toronto.

“[Our] priorities were around opening where the business owners are,” Murphy said.

Later this year, the bank says it will open a branch in Kitchener, Ont. For now, it has no further plans to open branches in Toronto.

“From a [Greater Toronto Area] perspective, in our model, we don’t need a branch at every corner — the triangle of Mississauga, Markham, downtown Toronto is adequate for us.”

CWB focuses on providing commercial banking, personal banking and wealth advisory services to small and medium-sized business owners.

Murphy said CWB can be nimbler than some of its competitors, such as the big banks, when it comes to holistic solutions for clients. “They’re just so big they need to be organized a certain way, and when you’re organized that way, it’s hard to deliver a really strong integrated solution,” he said.

In 2021, CWB merged its legacy private wealth businesses under the CWB Wealth brand, following CWB’s acquisition of T.E. Wealth and Leon Frazer in 2020.

“We were a meaningfully sized wealth business, but we weren’t big enough and we didn’t have enough capability, particularly in Ontario, so that was a really necessary platform-building acquisition for us,” Murphy said.

Today, CWB is home to 49 advisors, including four advisors in its T.E. Wealth Indigenous Services business.

As of Oct. 31, 2023, the bank had $7.9 billion in assets under management and administration on its CWB Wealth platform, and $2.1 billion in assets under advisory in its T.E. Wealth Indigenous Services business, for a total of $10 billion in assets under supervision. That compared to $9.6 billion in assets under supervision on Oct. 31, 2022.

Murphy said the bank is focused more on growing its wealth platform organically than by acquisition, but it would be open to a deal if it added capability. In its primary markets of Alberta and Ontario, “I’d say we’re fine,” Murphy said, but in Vancouver, “we don’t have the scale that I would like to have in terms of advisors.”

A key project for the bank this year is the continued rollout of a “revised” private banking model across the country, which leverages the wealth platform’s existing advisory capabilities while hiring where necessary, to move it toward a more segmented approach of serving clients.

“There’s not necessarily innovation in terms of the product or the offering,” Murphy said. “It’s really just about ensuring we’ve got the right client experience with the right talent, [aligned] in the right way [so] that all of the people involved in that relationship work together.”

Starting the revised private banking model in Ontario from scratch has meant the bank is “further along in the execution because we’ve hired into the model,” Murphy said.