09/17/2014 09:38 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:55 EDT

CIBC's new CEO Dodig says he'll be cautious when growing bank's business

Hardly a week into his new role as CIBC's chief executive, Victor Dodig is already showing he will be cautious and calculated when it comes to growing the business of the Canadian bank.

"Our shareholders should be prepared for a very common sensical, prudent approach to investing," he said Wednesday during an industry conference held by CIBC (TSX:CM) in Montreal.

Growth will primarily come from taking the assets the bank already owns and making them deliver improved profits with a more focused objective, he said.

In the United States, that will include increasing the presence of wealth management businesses American Century Investments and Atlantic Trust, which it purchased for a combined $1 billion last year, with a priority on serving high net worth clients, Dodig said.

"We're not going to be a mainline retail bank in the U.S.," he said. "We want to focus on a segment of wealth creation that has very attractive economic characteristics."

Dodig, who was previously head of CIBC's wealth management division, said he wants to expand the division to serve the top 10 or 20 markets for high net worth individuals in the U.S., with a goal of building a national presence.

"We also recognize the need to invest in our business organically and we need to have the flexibility for an acquisition," Dodig said.

Just a few months ago, CIBC was in the running to purchase U.S. money manager Russell Investments for as much as US$3 billion, according to media reports, and while a deal has not materialized Dodig said he's shopping for investments that top out around $2 billion.

"We feel the valuations are rather fullsome today," he said of the overall banking sector.

"But we're pretty disciplined in terms of how we look at businesses."

Dodig assumed the leadership position on Monday after the surprise retirement of Gerry McCaughey nearly two years earlier than expected.

He wasted no time in making changes, immediately announcing a major reorganization of senior management that included the retirement of chief operating officer Richard Nesbitt and the expansion of responsibilities of David Williamson beyond the retail and business banking division to include CIBC's FirstCaribbean International Bank.

The Caribbean operations of CIBC have been struggling against a difficult economy in the region, where CIBC has maintained a presence since the 1920s.

"It's a market that we understand and a market where we have very important clients," Dodig said.

"The macroeconomic environment there has been very challenging for everybody ... and that will evolve over time."

In the shorter term, CIBC intends to stay focused on managing its expenses at FirstCaribbean and keeping "new initiatives to a very tight range," he said.

This week, CIBC opens a representative office in Bogota, Colombia to serve business clients that are based in Latin America.

Shares of the bank were down 12 cents at $106.76 in Wednesday afternoon trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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