By Jes’s Aguado
MADRID (Reuters) -Spain’s Santander named Mexican-born Hector Grisi as its new chief executive officer to oversee the bank‘s digital transformation and growth strategy when the whole industry is rattled by global economic uncertainty.
Grisi, 55, who made the bank’s U.S. business its most profitable last year, will take the helm from January 1 next year, the bank said on Friday, after replacing Jose Antonio Alvarez who has been in the role since 2015.
Santander’s diversification, especially in Latin America, has helped the bank to cope with tough conditions for lenders in Europe since the financial crisis, where it has been cutting costs to cope with ultra-low interest rates.
Though its main market Brazil is slowing down, efficiency measures implemented in Europe, coupled with ongoing interest rate hikes in Britain and Poland, have boosted first quarter earnings. But more aggressive and faster interest rates hikes than expected, both in the euro zone and in the United States, to combat high inflation, are taking a toll on its shares.
Since the ECB opened the way to more pronounced rate hikes on June 9, shares in Santander have fallen more than 9%. They rose 1% in early trade on Friday.
“Given the internal profile of the appointment, and no changes in the chairman’s Executive role, any material shift in strategic terms looks unlikely and hence impact in share price terms should be limited,” UBS said in a note.
Grisi’s appointment comes at a time when Executive Chairman Ana Botin has said the lender would look for growth opportunities in Mexico such as the potential acquisition of Citigroup’s retail operation in Mexico.
Botin said in a statement that Grisi’s “track record as CEO of Santander Mexico and head of North America speaks for itself and illustrates why we believe he is the right person to lead the bank in the next phase of our transformation and growth.”
The move comes more than three years after the Spanish lender withdrew an offer to make Italian banker Andrea Orcel CEO, marking a rare, unexpected U-turn on such a high-level appointment and resulting in a sour legal battle.
Bankers had therefore been expecting an internal candidate to replace Alvarez. Santander said Grisi’s nomination had been made following a rigorous assessment process.
OVERSEE GROWTH AND REGIONS
Grisi will also take the helm following the bank’s recent operational structure changes to accelerate its digital transformation as lenders try to fend off competition from new internet-based entrants.
The bank said then that new tech units, PagoNxt and Digital Consumer Bank, would be supervised by Botin, while Santander’s regions, countries and global businesses would report to the CEO.
Grisi will report exclusively to the bank’s board following February’s change in the bank’s corporate governance structure.
However, Chairman Ana Botin who will keep her executive role.
At many Spanish lenders, the chairman holds executive powers and is in control of strategy while the CEO handles day-to-day business.
Supervisors of euro area banks favour a division of roles between the chairman and the CEO, with sound governance one of their key priorities.
Grisi, whose professional career spans over 35 years, was educated in Mexico and Canada.
Before joining Santander as CEO in Mexico in 2015, he spent 18 years at Credit Suisse, where he held a range of senior positions, including head of investment banking for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, then President and CEO of Credit Suisse’s Mexican unit.
As head of the North America region, Grisi was responsible for a record year in terms of profitability in 2021 in the U.S., generating $2.7 billion compared to $648 million in 2018, making the largest contribution to profit of any market in the group, Santander said.
(Reporting by Jes’s Aguado; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Shailesh Kuber, Elaine Hardcastle)