"We achieved strong double-digit growth in auto lending, a traditional area of strength and in credit cards which is a key area of focus for us," president and chief executive Brian Porter told a conference call with analysts.
"This growth in higher spread products is helping offset some of the negative margin pressure from the continued low rate environment."
Scotiabank's profit for the quarter amounted to $1.32 per diluted share, up from $1.61 billion or $1.24 per diluted share a year ago. Revenue totalled $5.65 billion, up from $5.17 billion.
On an adjusted basis, Scotiabank had diluted earnings of $1.34 per share, in line with analyst estimates.
It also announced increased its quarterly dividend by two cents to 64 cents starting April 28.
Scotiabank was the last of Canada's big banks to report its first-quarter results, which were generally positive across the industry.
Concerns have been raised about the future growth for the Canadian banks due to the expected slowdown of the housing market and little room for consumers to borrow any more.
Together, the big six banks in Canada — Royal Bank (TSX:RY), TD Bank (TSX:TD), Scotiabank (TSX:BNS), CIBC (TSX:CM), Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) and National Bank (TSX:NA) — earned a total of $8.49 billion for the first quarter, up from $7.64 billion in the first quarter of 2013.
In addition to Scotiabank, RBC, TD and CIBC also raised their dividends.
Scotiabank has been pushing its credit card business and said the number of new credit cards it has been issuing has roughly doubled compared with a year ago.
As a result though, the bank saw a small uptick in its provisions for credit losses that it attributed to its growth in credit cards, which offer higher margins but also see higher loan losses.
"Between that and the autos which were both growing strongly, we had a slight uptick," said Stephen Hart, Scotiabank's chief risk officer.
Overall, Scotiabank saw its provisions for credit losses increase to $356 million for the quarter, up from $310 million a year ago.
The provisions included $134 million in Canada, up from $118 million a year ago, while international banking recorded $219 million compared with $186 million. Global banking and markets had $3 million in credit losses for the quarter compared with $5 million a year ago.
Barclays analyst John Aiken said, while he continued to like the bank's medium and longer term outlook, he did not believe the quarter's results would will generate much near-term outperformance.
"International Banking had a quarter that provided something for both the bulls and the bears," Aiken wrote in a note to clients.
"Loans and margins were up strongly, but provision and expense increases led to a sequential and year-over-year decline in contribution. Similarly, a good performance in Canadian Banking was offset by an increase in provisions, which may raise some questions."
Scotiabank's Canadian banking operations earned $575 million, up from $539 million a year ago, while international banking saw its results fall to $401 million from $411 million a year ago.
During the period covering Scotiabank's first quarter, the focus was on several countries — Argentina, South Africa, Turkey and India — that saw their currencies pummelled by a change in U.S. monetary policy as the Federal Reserve began to wind down economic stimulus.
Porter said Scotiabank has deliberately chosen to invest in stable Latin American economies such as Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico in the belief that they have a strong likelihood for sustainable, higher growth.
"Our operations in emerging markets are an important long-term growth story for Scotiabank. Not all emerging markets are created equally. We do not have significant operations in the countries that have been the subject of most of the press coverage," Porter said.
Global wealth and insurance contributed $327 million, up from $285 million in the first quarter of 2013, while global banking and markets was $339 million, down from $388 million a year ago.
Return on equity was 15.4 per cent compared to 16.8 per cent last year while its Tier 1 capital ratio rose to 9.4 per cent.