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Bay Street on a mission to woo Wall Street

 

NEW YORK - (Toronto Star) - Bay Street's brightest stars descended on the Big Apple Tuesday on a mission to woo Wall Street and bolster Toronto's profile as a global financial services centre.

Toronto Financial Services Day in New York 2010 was designed to court more business for the GTA by showcasing our industry's financial finesse and penchant for prudence.

The event, held at a Manhattan hotel, featured a 300-person guest list that was a veritable who's who of banking and politics.

Ontario's Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sandra Pupatello was dubbed Toronto's chief sales person for the mission.

After stroking New Yorkers for having the top financial services centre in North America, she gently suggested that Toronto just wants to bud up against New York rather than steal its thunder.

We want more partnerships with New York, Pupatello said during a luncheon address.

The downside has never been so small and the upside has never been so large for participating in the Ontario and Canadian economies.

She even provided delegates with a top 10 list of reasons to invest in Ontario a homage of sorts to local television personality David Letterman.

Her number one reason was lower corporate taxes. Business tax rates in Canada will about 28.25 per cent in 2011 versus about 40 per cent in the United States, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

By 2014, Canada's rate will dip to 25 per cent giving it one of the lowest statutory combined federal and provincial corporate income tax rates among G7 countries.

We are a pro-business government. We are actually out shilling for the financial services industry, she added.

Michael Wilson, chair of Barclays Capital Canada and a former Canadian ambassador to the United States, tried to impress upon delegates there is more to Canada than just natural resources.

I think the Canada brand is as high as I've seen it, Wilson said. He vowed to never give up until Toronto achieves its proper recognition.

What we need now is more sizzle, said Frank McKenna, deputy chair of TD Bank Financial Group. This trip was a great exercise in selling.

Janet Ecker, president of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, said contact was made with a number of large companies looking to set up shop in Toronto. We don't know if we'll get them all but they are significant, she said.

Toronto's growing reputation for financial risk management was not lost on world-weary New Yorkers, particularly on a day of volatility on U.S. markets.

I have a high regard of Canada especially financially, said Frank Bamberger, president of F.B Asset Management. The way you kept your house in order compared to so many other nations I so respect Canada.

Ariel Imas, co-president of capital markets at Avalon Group Ltd., a boutique investment banking firm that focuses on sectors such as mining, called Canada an unchartered territory of growing importance.

We think the most natural step is to partner with a broker-dealer out of Canada, Imas said. That kind of partnership may really work and make sense because you don't want start something from scratch.

U.S.-based Avalon has already been approached by a couple of Canadian banks. There are a lot of introductions that are going to be made especially after this event, he added.

Also in attendance were representatives from Royal Bank of Canada, the TMX Group and some top Bay Street legal and professional services firms.

We applaud the work of the Toronto Financial Services Alliance in bringing the world's attention to Toronto's development as a world class financial centre, said Roger Blissett, an RBC executive attending the event.

Both industry and governments are hoping to seize on momentum achieved during the recent financial crisis when Canada's banking system earned international praise for its previously-derided risk-averse style.

The New York Times, for one, has recently deemed Canada The Great Solvent North, while Dow Jones has proclaimed that Boring is the new sexy in financial institutions.

In September, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the soundest in the world for the third straight year. In sharp contrast, the United States took 111th place behind Slovenia.

The absence of costly taxpayer-funded bailouts, however, has done little to improve Toronto's overall profile as a global financial services centre. The city ranked 12th in the latest Global Financial Centres Index and all three levels of government are eager for it to crack the top 10 by 2015.

Canadian luminaries said the upcoming launch of the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services in Toronto will help propel the city into that top tier, while creating more jobs.

At the heart of the Canadian banking culture is a good risk management culture and it has served us in good stead, said TD's McKenna, who is also a former premier of New Brunswick.

Now we are reinforcing that with the Global Risk Institute. I think the message is that these financial institutions have the ability to blow up the entire financial structure of the world if they are not carefully controlled. And so you do need regulation.

The institute, which aims to showcase the city's world-leading expertise in financial risk management, is expected to kick off operations in January 2011.

Michael Doud, vice-president of major accounts for U.S.-based headhunting firm Robert Half International, said any investment in education is going to be a positive for Toronto.

It definitely feels like they have something good to sell, Doud said. Right now they have a more conservative approach to business as a result everything that has happened on Wall Street, so I think there is something to be said for that.