Bank of Montreal quietly made swift and widespread staff cuts in the fourth quarter, reducing its workforce by the equivalent of nearly 1,000 positions.

According to financial documents the bank released in announcing its earnings earlier Tuesday, BMO had 46,628 full-time employees at the end of July. By the end of the most recent quarter ended in October, that was down to 45,631.

That's a reduction of 997 full-time jobs, just over two per cent of its workforce. "That number reflects reductions due to a combination [of] productivity initiatives, attrition and a decline in part-time work hours due to seasonal fluctuations," a spokesperson for the bank told CBC News in an emailed statement.

Chief operating officer Frank Techar confirmed Tuesday during a conference call to discuss the bank's fourth-quarter results that BMO made the cuts in an effort to reduce expenses and make the bank's overall operations more efficient.

The total reductions were "full-time equivalent" positions, which are calculated on an average work week but can include part-time jobs.

"We did see a big reduction in the head count," he told analysts in a financial results conference call.

But he conceded that the bank may have actually laid off too many people at once.

"For the quarter we overshot a little bit," he said. "We do have some outstanding vacancies that I would expect will fill as we go into the first quarter."

Earnings up

Typically, a public company issues a press release about significant layoffs as part of its disclosure practices, though the Canadian banks haven't always followed that practice.

Most of the cuts were made at the Bank of Montreal's Canadian personal and commercial banking operations, where about 730 jobs were eliminated.

At the end of the fourth quarter, BMO had about 45,631 employees across its business, which also includes its U.S. banking operations, wealth management division and capital markets.

The last time BMO made deep cuts to its workforce was when it laid off three per cent of its staff in 2009 amid widespread economic uncertainty.

In BMO's earnings report, the bank announced its full-year profit hit a record of $4.2 billion. And the bank increased its dividend by two cents per quarter.

With files from CBC News