It's a good thing Alberta Cefis likes to travel so much, because as Scotiabank's head of global transaction banking, she does a lot of it. The Toronto-based bank has offices in 50 countries, and Cefis' division contributes a big and growing chunk of revenue to all of them.

Since taking over the group two years ago, Cefis, who oversees a budget of $85 million, has increased deposits by 23 percent, revenues by 19 percent and net income after taxes by 35 percent (Scotiabank would not disclose the group's revenue or profits). It is Canada's third-largest bank, with 60,000 employees and $449 billion in assets. "When I took it over, the business had just been created," says Cefis, pointing out that transaction banking wasn't always such a big entity. Before Cefis came along, all of its components-trade finance, correspondent banking, cash management and payments and electronic banking-were scattered across the firm. Her job, she says, has been to combine the pieces and create a consistent strategy that creates value for the bank and for customers.

But it's not just about integration: Cefis has continued to aggressively pursue revenue with a variety of new offerings. In the past two years, Scotiabank has introduced a Web-based cash management service and launched a wholesale investment account in the U.S., opened trade offices in Turkey and Russia, and overhauled its sales force.

In addition, Cefis is helping lead the bank's expansion into Brazil, Russia, India and China, and has launched a service platform for the NAFTA region that integrates cross-border management capabilities for customers who operate in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Luckily for Cefis, who also speaks Italian, French and Spanish, the global credit crunch has barely made a dent in global transactions.

"This type of business is very resilient in this kind of climate," says Cefis, pointing out that steady income generated by fees, high deposits and low capital expenditure makes transaction banking an attractive niche during tough times. These dynamics also makes for an attractive return on equity: at 52.8 percent, it's among the highest in the business.

With such a strong record, Cefis has drawn quite a bit of attention. She has been regularly named to the Top 100 List of Canada's Most Powerful Women by the Women's Executive Network, and last year was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame. Still, in the 27 years she has spent building a successful banking career, Cefis, who was born in Italy, hasn't forgotten where her ascent began. "I owe my success to my parents, who transmitted to me critical values which give meaning to every moment of my life," she says.

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