(Adds Bank Hapoalim statement, details about Pinto)
TEL AVIV, May 24 (Reuters) - Bank Hapoalim's deputy chief executive will take over as CEO when Zion Kenan steps down and will be tasked with navigating Israel's biggest lender through sweeping bank reforms.
The appointment of Hapoalim veteran Ari Pinto, 55, comes at a testing time for Israeli banks facing reforms that have provoked a row between the finance ministry and the central bank and raised fears about the stability of the financial system.
Pinto, who is also chief operating officer, has been with Hapoalim since 1980 and was appointed to his current position in February. He has served on the board of management since 2009 and was head of retail banking from 2013-2015.
After being recommended by a search committee, Pinto's appointment was unanimously approved by the bank's board. Hapoalim said in a statement on Tuesday it would announce his starting date as CEO once regulatory approval had been obtained.
Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is pushing for reforms that will split banks from their credit card companies in a bid to create more competition within the sector, but this has sparked a row with the central bank.
In addition, parliament has introduced one of the world's toughest curbs on bank executives' salaries.
Pinto, who contracted polio when he was one, emigrated from Morocco in 1961 and was orphaned at an early age. He was head coach of the Israel national wheelchair basketball team for five years, having led the team to the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
"The circumstances of my life spurred me to strive harder than anyone else and to act resolutely to achieve my personal and professional goals," said Pinto, who is also known as Arik.
Hapoalim said in late March that Kenan would step down in six months after 38 years at the bank and more than seven years as CEO. Kenan, 60, said he wanted to explore new business challenges in Israel and abroad.
Israel's top banks fell short of earnings forecasts in the first quarter, hit by one-off costs due to corporate tax rate changes. (Reporting by Tova Cohen; editing by David Clarke)