Santander Brasil Names Sergio Rial CEO as Botin Makes Mark

  • Unit Chairman Rial, hired in March, will succeed Jesus Zabalza
  • Madrid-based bank has been rotating CEOs in Brazil subsidiary

Banco Santander SA named Sergio Rial chief executive officer of the Brazil unit as Chairman Ana Botin shakes up the bank’s leadership.

Rial, hired by Botin in March, will succeed Jesus Zabalza, who has run
Banco Santander Brasil since April 2013, the Madrid-based parent company said Wednesday in a regulatory filing. Rial, who is the unit’s chairman, will take on the new CEO position Jan. 1.

The company plans to name a new chairman next year to replace Rial, Marcos Madureira, Santander Brasil’s head of institutional affairs, said in an interview. Zabalza will lead the board, remaining as deputy chairman, before leaving the country in December 2016, Madureira said. The new chairman will be a Brazilian national, following Santander’s model of having local executives run units outside Spain, he said.

Before joining Brazil’s sixth-biggest bank by assets, Rial led Marfrig Global Foods SA, one of the world’s largest beef companies, with businesses including Keystone Foods in the U.S. He also served on the board of ABN Amro Bank NV.

“Since she took over as chairman last year, Ana Botin has made a lot of changes both at the management level and at the board, so this is not a major surprise,” Nuria Alvarez, a bank analyst at Renta 4 Banco in Madrid, said by phone. “One of the main concerns for the markets at Santander is the Brazilian unit, so new management can be a step toward having new goals for the business there.”

Two-Year Intervals

Botin was named chairman last year after the death of her father Emilio and has since replaced the heads of the Spain, U.K. and U.S. units. With 598 billion reais ($158 billion) in assets in Brazil at the end of last year, the business is the nation’s third-largest non-government-owned lender, according to central bank data. The firm has changed CEOs in Brazil about every two years since it bought ABN Amro’s operations in 2007.

As Santander Brasil’s chairman, Rial was involved in the bank’s day-to-day operations and is well-versed with its “challenges, strength and areas it needs to continue advancing,” Zabalza said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday.

Brazil, facing a weaker economic outlook and a currency plunge, is Santander’s second-largest market, contributing 20 percent of the lender’s profit. Shares at Santander’s Brazilian unit have slipped 15 percent in Sao Paulo since the end of June.

Santander Brasil rose 1.7 percent to 14.59 reais in Sao Paulo at 1:09 p.m., compared with a 0.9 percent gain for Ibovespa benchmark index.

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