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A word on debt from Canadian Western Bank’s new president

Risky Business: Chris Fowler spent the bulk of his career in risk management

Dec 11, 2012

by Alberta Venture Staff

Back when Chris Fowler first joined Canadian Western Bank in 1991, the company had $1 billion in assets. Today, the Edmonton-headquartered bank’s assets total more than $14 billion, and Fowler will soon be responsible for its continued growth. The bulk of his career has been in commercial lending and credit-risk management, two areas that have fuelled Canadian Western Bank’s growth. Fowler is CWB’s president and chief operating officer, but he will be taking over the CEO’s role when Larry Pollock retires in March 2013. This will mark the first time in 22 years that CWB has changed its CEO.

Incoming Canadian Western Bank CEO Chris Fowler
Photograph Ryan Girard

On what he has learned from Larry Pollock
“What have I learned? That’s hard to say because it’s vast. I think the main thing that I – or anybody else – have learned from him is that you always need to be interested, you always need to ask questions and always need to be opportunistic.”

On preparing a successor for his role as COO
“We’re really focusing on leadership development internally. We’ve got very good depth in our senior management group both at the executive level and at the senior vice-president level at the bank. Both groups include people that have had solid backgrounds in commercial banking, and we’ve got a number of candidates to step into the role that I will be exiting. It’s of key importance for us to have the right people, because as with any company, it’s the people that are there that will make the difference.”

On Canadians’ high levels of personal debt
“The level of personal indebtedness should be a worry for all parts of the financial industry. The economy functions from two sides: you need people to be in the market to buy retail and durable goods and you also need consumers to put savings into capital items like bonds and the stock market, which allow businesses to grow. But when you’ve got very high debt levels – and particularly when a high percentage of debt is against housing – then you have a lot of people with all their eggs in one basket and a less diversified financial position.”

On the best way to tackle Canadians’ debt
“Financial literacy is the key. Understand the implications of being in debt and what choices you’re making when you take debt on. Clearly, ensure that when you take on debt, you understand what you need to pay it back.The number one issue that really came out of the recession in the United States was a lack of financial literacy. There was a belief in the housing market that you could buy a house and it would always go up in value. And that you could refinance at any time, and you would be able to sell your house and pay your debts at any time. Of course, that’s not ultimately what happened.”

On a possible increase in interest rates
“We’re in a very low interest rate environment and people can service a very high level of debt today. At some point, the date of which we don’t know, there will be an effect on servicing that debt.”

On the reputation of Canadian bankers
“I believe all the Canadian banks will be just fine ahead of the Basel 3 capital rules that are coming into play January 1. I think that Canada has a very strong reputation on the banking side and I think the track record has been so positive that the Canadian banking sector’s reputation has gained in recent years.”

On Canadian Western Bank’s role in the financial industry
“The bank started back in 1984 because the Eastern banks would stop lending when the economy was turning down in the West. It was access to credit. Our founders looked at that and said, “No, we should have our own bank where we can make decisions in Western Canada and participate in the economy.” And that has always been our perspective.”

On moving into Ontario, Quebec and beyond
“Our moves into Ontario would be more in the equipment finance, leasing and residential mortgage areas. So those are very specific and targeted areas where we’re not in the face of the bigger banks.”


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One Response to A word on debt from Canadian Western Bank’s new president

  1. Brian Ward says:

    The elephant in the room is credit card debt…no banker wants to touch that one, given the exorbitant interest rates they charge combined with the overly aggressive marketing of credit cards and the huge profiteering. The banking system has built its own house of cards…and it’s all plastic!