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UPDATE 1-Spain's Sabadell picks Gonzalez-Bueno to lead it on new path

(Adds quotes, shares, challenges facing the bank)

MADRID, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Sabadell appointed Cesar Gonzalez-Bueno as its chief executive on Thursday, handing the 60-year-old banker the task of leading the Spanish lender’s new strategy and digital drive.

Gonzalez-Bueno will replace Jaime Guardiola, who will remain until Sabadell gets approval for the new appointment, only weeks after the collapse of talks with BBVA to form Spain’s second-largest domestic lender in terms of assets.

This failure has piled pressure on Sabadell, with investors worried about the bank’s ability to handle on its own the expected pick-up in bad loans stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

Gonzalez-Bueno has more than 23 years’ experience in senior banking positions, including almost three as CEO of ING Bank Spain and Portugal and will be tasked with improving Sabadell’s profits as European struggle with ultra low interest rates.

Gonzalez-Bueno will take part in the design and implementation of a new strategic plan to be unveiled in the first quarter of 2021, Sabadell said.

“I am looking forward to lead this process and, together, to unlock potential future value for our shareholders,” Gonzalez-Bueno said in a statement.

He was most recently Chairman of the Advisory Board of ING Bank Spain and Portugal and in March become non-executive director at Sabadell’s loss-making British bank TSB.

Josep Oliu, 71, will remain Chairman of Sabadell but without executive responsibilities, as was already planned to comply with corporate governance practices, a source with knowledge of the matter said. Sabadell declined to comment on this.

Guardiola, 63, who has been CEO since September 2007, will remain at the bank as Chairman of Banco Sabadell Mexico.

Major IT glitches at TSB more than two years ago and uncertainty over Brexit have overshadowed Sabadell’s expansion and the bank is now looking to sell the British business.

Gonzalez-Bueno is also expected to lead the sale of TSB and refocus Sabadell on its core small and mid-sized business in Spain, analysts have said.

Spanish investment firm Alantra said his appointment was positive for Sabadell, but added that “restoring market credibility will be a long and winding process”.

Since announcing the 1.7 billion pound ($2.3 billion) TSB buy in March 2015, Sabadell’s shares have fallen around 80%.

Its shares closed down 2.45% at 0.3615 euros on Thursday. (Reporting by Jesús Aguado; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alexander Smith)

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