Canada's message to Wall Street: we've got jobs
A man walks down the street from the King and Bay intersection in the financial district in Toronto, February 22, 2011. Reuters

As European banks seek state help and U.S. lenders shore up shaky balance sheets, Canada's well-performing banks have stepped up their efforts to poach talent from rivals around the world.

Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO: Quote), Canada's No. 2 lender, has added 50 executives so far this year through acquisition and organic growth, while smaller rival Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO: Quote) has bragged about poaching several high-profile executives from international firms.

"Many global players are retrenching, so there are significant layoffs happening, said Janet Ecker, president of the lobby group Toronto Financial Service Alliance (TFSA), which was holding a "career fair" in New York on Wednesday.

"(Canadian banks) have used this opportunity to just become more global in expanding their business."

Ecker hopes to cajole Wall Street bankers to relocate to Canada's financial center of Toronto, which cracked the top ten of the Global Financial Centers Index for the first time this year. "It's starting to register with people that there are career opportunities here," she said.

Figures from the Canadian Bankers Association show that total global employment by Canadian banks hit a record of more than 360,000 in 2010, and quarterly data from Canada's big lenders suggest that figure has continued to rise this year even as banks lay off workers elsewhere in the world.

Several big international lenders have announced massive job cuts, including Bank of America (BAC.N: Quote) and HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote), which have each announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs.

Ecker's confidence stems from the relative ease with which Canada's banks escaped the 2008 financial crisis.

She, TD Deputy Chair Frank McKenna, Caldwell Securities founder Tom Caldwell, and Warren Bell, chief human resources officer of the OMERS pension fund, were all set to speak at the career fair, aiming to convince New Yorkers that Toronto makes up in stability what it lacks in profile.

Unlike major U.S. and European banks, no Canadian bank cut its dividend or required a government bailout. Most of their stock prices rebounded quickly to new records, although the shares followed the broader market lower this summer.

The global repercussions of the European sovereign debt crisis remain unclear, but Canadian banks say they have minimal exposure to the sector.

"The way Canada has been performing, I think there's a higher level of attractiveness for Toronto," said Susan Cummings, TD's head of human resources.

Canada's top five banks have made several acquisitions since the 2008 crisis, including in the United States.

TD now boasts more branches in the United States than it does in Canada, while sector heavyweight Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO: Quote) has been seeking global growth in wealth management and capital markets.

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO: Quote) and Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO: Quote), the country's third and fourth-biggest banks, have been expanding internationally and both were named primary dealers by the New York Federal Reserve.

"The Canadian banks already have dominant market share in Canada. What they're trying to do is expand into these areas and take a bigger piece of the pie in New York, and London, etc," said Barclays Capital analyst John Aiken.

He said the banks' expansion plans after the world financial crisis increased their appeal to workers in traditional financial centers such as New York.

"As an employee you want to be on a platform that's growing as opposed to shrinking," he said.

But Aiken expects Canadian bank growth to slow if narrow interest rate spreads, the expectation of slowing consumer loan growth, and volatile capital markets push revenues lower.

"It's not that we think the hiring is going to dry up, but the pace is likely going to slow," he said.