Executives at CIBC Oppenheimer Corp., the U.S. securities arm of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, plan to forge ahead with hiring and expansion, even as their parent prepares to merge with Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Toronto-Dominion's U.S. investment banking subsidiary, TD Securities, is known for its expertise in several niche industries, including media and telecommunications.

According to Michael S. Rulle, chairman and chief executive of CIBC Oppenheimer, Toronto-Dominion's strength in those businesses will be "additive" to his firm's expertise.

CIBC and Toronto-Dominion together agented $10.4 billion of leveraged loans to U.S. media and telecommunications companies in 1997, according to Securities Data Co. That is about $200 million more than market leader Chase Manhattan Corp.

But, as Mr. Rulle acknowledged, "in the meantime, we're still two different firms." And it could be a year before Canadian regulators approve the banking companies' plan to merge. The deal was announced last week.

That means CIBC Oppenheimer plans to continue to buy, integrate, and build, Mr. Rulle said. The goal is to create a leading full- service securities provider for middle-market growth companies and high- net-worth people.

Mr. Rulle said the integration of TD Securities would be highly complementary to that goal. For one thing, TD Securities would increase CIBC Oppenheimer's distribution opportunities.

"It will be nice to have both a full-service and discount brokerage," Mr. Rulle said. Before CIBC bought it, Oppenheimer had a full-service brokerage, which now has about 650 brokers. TD Securities has a discount brokerage.

The integration of Oppenheimer Holdings - a private firm with brokerage, equities, and asset management capabilities that CIBC bought in November for $525 million - may supply some clue to how the investment banking unit handles acquisitions.

Mr. Rulle said the Oppenheimer staff has been fully integrated - a process that led to the layoffs of only about two dozen support staff members.

CIBC Oppenheimer employs about 5,000 people.

Although former Oppenheimer employees still have separate offices from their colleagues with the CIBC unit, Mr. Rulle said he hopes to have them all under one roof soon.

Since the acquisition of Oppenheimer, the number of equity analysts has been increased by about 20%. Now, Mr. Rulle said, he hopes to hire a few investment bankers to head specialized industry groups.

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