Bank of Nova Scotia, already the most international of Canada's big banks, has embarked on an ambitious program to expand its global operations.

"Our focus is primarily on Asia and Latin America," said Robert W. Chisholm, executive vice president in Toronto. "Many of these markets are growing, and they are underbanked."

As part of the current round of expansion in Asia, the $122 billion- asset Canadian bank plans to open a representative office in Vietnam and a third Indian branch, in Coimbatore, a southern industrial city of around 3.5 million people.

Nova Scotia has also obtained approval from the Malaysian government to open a branch in the offshore financial center of Labuan. Last month, it also opened a branch in Beirut.

In Latin America, the bank is building a network of strategic alliances by taking minority stakes in local banks. Over the last few years, it has acquired a 35% stake in Argentina's Banco Quilmes SA, 30% in Chile's Banco Sud Americano, and 25% in Peru's Banco Sudamericano.

If all goes as planned, Bank of Nova Scotia will also increase its stake in Mexico's fourth-largest bank, Grupo Financiero Inverlat, to 55%, from 10%, by 2000.

Bank of Nova Scotia has already invested $31.25 million in Inverlat in exchange for its 10% stake and bought $143.75 million worth of bonds issued by the Mexican bank, which it can convert into shares.

The bank already has the most extensive international network among Canadian banks, with 310 overseas branches spread across 46 countries, including some 200 in the Caribbean.

However, the Canadian banker emphasized that growing world trade, coupled with faster growth in developing markets, made further expansion necessary.

"Corporations want to deal with less and less banks, and as trade increases and clients require services around the world, we are building a network of alliances so that we can bring a local bank into the equation," Mr. Chisholm said.

He added that the alliances are "very much a two-way street."

"This helps Bank of Nova Scotia clients in emerging markets, but we also help local banks by giving them an international presence and by bringing in management skills and technology they need to support their own clients."

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