Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS)(NYSE:BNS) is often pushed to the sidelines when investors consider a bank name for their portfolio, but the company has a unique strategy that warrants a closer look.

Focus on Latin America

Bank of Nova Scotia is Canada’s most international bank with operations in more than 50 countries and full-service businesses in more than 30.

Over the past five years the company has zoned in on Latin America, spending $7 billion to build a strategic network of assets in Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru.

The four countries are of special interest because they form the core of the Pacific Alliance, a special trade bloc set up to promote the free movement of capital and goods among the member states.

As the process to integrate the four markets evolves, Bank of Nova Scotia is setting itself up to be a major player in the broader market.

On the commercial side, the opportunities are compelling. When companies begin new business relationships in other countries, they need a wide variety of new cash-management products and services. By having a strong presence in each market, Bank of Nova Scotia is well positioned to capitalize on those needs.

The retail potential is also very interesting. The four countries have a combined population of more than 200 million. As young people begin to earn more money, the middle class expands, and that generates demand for credit cards, car loans, lines of credit, and investment products.

Earnings strength

The Canadian operations delivered adjusted fiscal Q3 net income of $863 million, a 15% increase over the same period last year. The international group contributed $485 million in profits, up 11% over Q3 2014.

Corporate overhaul

Bank of Nova Scotia launched a major restructuring program last year that was targeted at improving efficiency in both the Canadian and international divisions. The company took an initial charge of $451 million as it reduced staff by 1,500 and closed more than 100 underperforming branches.

In early October the bank said it will exceed the $150 million cost-cutting target it initially set for the Canadian business.

McKinsey & Co. is working with Bank of Nova Scotia to find ways to reduce the bank’s structural costs. One new development that appears to have come out of the process is a consolidation of regional back office work into two tech hubs in Toronto.

Staying competitive

The banking industry is under threat from non-bank mobile payment providers. In an effort to stay ahead of the curve, Bank of Nova Scotia is setting up a new division called Digital Factory. The group will launch with 350 tech specialists working on ways to help the banks better serve its customers through innovative digital technologies.

In October, Bank of Nova Scotia became the first Canadian bank to offer a mobile wallet for credit and debit cards on both Android and Blackberry devices.

Should you buy?

Bank of Nova Scotia trades at an attractive 9.6 times forward earnings. The company recently hiked the quarterly dividend to $0.70 per share, so management obviously feels comfortable with the revenue and earnings outlook.

With a reliable yield of 4.5%, the stock looks like a solid pick, and investors could see strong share appreciation in the coming years as the international operations become more significant in the earnings mix.

Are all the banks still safe bets?

Canadian banks are considered must-have investments. After all, they're very stable, well capitalized, and face limited competition. That said, there are concerns for some of the banks and their investors.

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Fool contributor Andrew Walker has no position in any stocks mentioned.