By Jesús Aguado
MADRID (Reuters) – Santander Brazil head Sergio Rial will join Santander’s board as a group executive director, the Spanish bank said on Thursday, giving the 59-year-old more influence over its overall strategy.
The Brazilian is viewed as one of the leading candidates to become Santander CEO in the medium term, several senior bankers have told Reuters, after the bank failed to hire Italian banker Andrea Orcel for the role in January last year.
“It is very clear that Santander’s next candidate for … CEO should be someone from within the bank and Rial is a clear frontrunner,” one investment banker, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
Santander, the euro zone biggest bank in terms of market value, said on Thursday that it would not comment on “mere speculation” when asked about candidates for the post of CEO.
The Madrid-based bank also said that Rial would continue to report to its chief executive Jose Antonio Alvarez. Santander has said that it is sticking with Alvarez as CEO.
“Since joining Santander in 2015, Sergio has led Santander Brazil’s transformation,” Santander chairwoman Ana Botin said.
“I am certain that his vision will provide great value to the board,” Botin added in a statement.
Rial, who joined Santander in 2015, will maintain his position as country head for Brazil, head of South America and head of Global Trade Services (GTS), the platform the bank is developing to enable international trade for SMEs.
Brazil has been Santander’s main earnings driver and has helped it cope with tough conditions for banks in Europe in the years since the financial crisis, where low interest rates and the clean-up from the credit crunch have crimped profits.
Santander Brazil, which accounts for 28% of group earnings, saw underlying profit rise 16% in 2019, while in Europe it fell 3% year-on-year due to higher provisions.
Once Rial’s appointment is ratified, Santander will have three executive directors on its board: Botin, Alvarez as vice chairman and CEO, and Rial.
The rest of Santander’s 15 board members, of whom 40% are women, are external directors.
(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; additional reporting by Carolina Mandl in Sao Paulo and Pamela Barbaglia in London; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alexander Smith)