Bank of Montreal CEO sees more growth in U.S. beyond the Midwest

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Bank of Montreal is getting about half of its U.S. business from outside the company's Midwest stronghold, thanks to a commercial banking push, Chief Executive Darryl White said.

"That's what's driving a lot of the non-Midwest growth — the commercial business," White told reporters after the bank's investors meeting Tuesday in Toronto.

The head of Canada's fourth-largest lender by assets highlighted his U.S. strategy during the annual session, noting that roughly 50 percent of Bank of Montreal's business from the U.S. is from the seven Midwest states it considers its "core footprint." Two-thirds of new commercial loans in the U.S. are in industries that are national in scope, he said.

The bank's BMO Capital Markets division is also boosting company revenue from business across the U.S., and its wealth management business is a smaller but growing contributor to non-Midwest growth, White said. He's been pushing to boost the share of earnings that come from U.S. operations, which include Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank, to a third of overall profit in three to five years. In the past 12 months, 30 percent of earnings were from the U.S., he said.

There's "perhaps an impression we're overindexed" to the Midwest, but "that's not the case," White said, adding that there are limits on the bank's national ambitions in the U.S. "This isn't to say we're going to be all things to all people in all geographies in the United States."

White also said he'd consider extending the lender's cannabis business to the U.S. if federal legislation makes it possible. Growth in the country isn't predicated, however, on providing financing to pot companies.

"If we get through to the end of federal legislation that's permissive, we'll look at it then," White said. "But we have nothing in our business plans today that is dependent on pushing our cannabis business into the United States."

Bloomberg News