December 17, 2014 / 1:16 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-Swiss National Bank picks first female board member

* Andrea Maechler named third board member

* Fritz Zurbruegg to become vice chairman

* Both to take up new roles on July 1 (Adds comment, detail)

By Alice Baghdjian

ZURICH, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The Swiss National Bank chose the first female director in its 107-year history on Wednesday as it braces for a potentially tough policy test if the European Central Bank starts full-blown quantitative easing in 2015.

Andrea Maechler, deputy division chief at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will head the SNB department responsible for the bank's cap on the Swiss franc from July 1.

The franc has edged closer to its 1.20 per euro limit as the single currency weakens on expectations the European Central Bank (ECB) will launch a full-blown quantitative easing (QE) programme early next year.

"If this is the case, the probability of Maechler taking over a central bank with negative rates and deflation risks is high," said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, an analyst at Swissquote. "This will be the biggest challenge in the second half of 2015."

A renewed assault on the franc could force the SNB to take further measures to defend its cap policy, imposed in 2011 to fend off deflation.

The 45-year-old will be tasked with managing the SNB's huge foreign currency reserves of around 460 billion Swiss francs ($474.81 billion), amassed during heavy interventions in the foreign exchange markets in 2012 to defend the cap.

Though she was not a prominent candidate during the hunt for a new board member, Maechler has vast experience in international institutions, having previously worked at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations.

In her current role as deputy division head of the IMF's Capital Markets Department, she is in charge of monitoring global market developments and assessing their macro-financial impact.

Maechler will replace board member Fritz Zurbruegg, who will become vice-chairman of the bank after the incumbent Jean-Pierre Danthine retires next year.

"It isn't likely to change anything about monetary policy, which is the key issue for us, so we don't see any change with this appointment," said Maxime Botteron at Credit Suisse.

Maechler joins a small but growing group of women taking on top jobs in central banking, including Janet Yellen at the U.S. Federal Reserve and Sabine Lautenschlaeger at the ECB.

As a French speaker, she also satisfies the SNB's unspoken policy of not having an all-German-speaking board.

Maechler earned a doctorate in international economics from the University of California at Santa Cruz and also studied at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. ($1 = 0.9643 Swiss francs) (Additional reporting by Caroline Copley and Katharina Bart; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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