Spain’s Unicaja to start search for new chairman in revamp

By Jesús Aguado

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Unicaja on Friday said it would start searching for a new non-executive chairman to replace Manuel Azuaga as part of the bank’s plan to revamp its corporate governance structure.

Azuaga, who will also give up his position as a member of the board, will step down once a new chairman has been named, the bank said.

The outgoing chairman said in a statement that with the Liberbank merger complete and the agreed transitional period where he remained at the helm now over, it was the “right time” to “put an end” to his career at Unicaja.

Unicaja announced the acquisition of smaller lender Liberbank at the end of 2020, creating Spain’s fifth-largest bank with around 110 billion euros ($121 billion) in assets when the deal closed in July 2021.

At the time, the banks said Azuaga would remain in post at the merged entity before the board reviewed its corporate governing structure around two years after the deal’s close, with the chair giving up his executive powers.

Unicaja formally appointed Isidro Rubiales as its new CEO in July to replace Manuel Menendez, with the European Central Bank authorising the appointment in September with executive powers.

Supervisors of euro area banks favour separating the roles of chairman and CEO. At many Spanish lenders, the chairman holds executive powers and controls strategy while the CEO handles day-to-day business.

Corporate governance has been at the centre of the banking turmoil triggered in March by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in the United States and UBS Group’s state-backed takeover of Credit Suisse in Switzerland.

At 1428 GMT, shares in Unicaja were 0.5% lower.

(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; editing by Kirsten Donovan)