January 29, 2019 / 8:22 AM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 2-S.Africa's Absa seeks new blood after decade under Ramos

* Absa CEO Ramos to retire at end of February

* René van Wyk to become interim CEO from March

* Chairwoman says external candidate to be in place in one year

* Shares rise 4 pct, analysts and investors welcome fresh start (Recasts with Absa chairwoman comments)

By Emma Rumney and Tanisha Heiberg

JOHANNESBURG Jan 29 (Reuters) - South African lender Absa plans to appoint an external candidate as its new CEO following the sudden departure of its boss of ten years, Maria Ramos, with analysts and investors hoping they will breathe new life into the lagging bank.

Absa’s Tuesday announcement that Ramos, one of global banking’s few female CEOs, would retire at the end of February took some analysts and investors by surprise and sent the bank’s shares up by 4 percent.

Absa - South Africa’s third-biggest lender and a prominent brand across southern and eastern Africa - said Ramos will be replaced in the interim by René van Wyk, a non-executive director on its board.

However her permanent successor would come from outside the bank, Absa Chairwoman Wendy Lucas-Bull told Reuters by phone, adding that the search had been underway for some time.

“That is why we are comfortable we can go to market by the time we release our half-year results in terms of the name of the individual, and then the individual will be clear to start by the start of the next financial year,” she said.

Lucas-Bull said Ramos had wanted to step down in 2016, but agreed to stay on after former parent Britain’s Barclays said it wanted to sell down its stake, leaving Absa to chart its own course.

Ramos stayed to see the bank through the separation and return of the Absa brand, Lucas-Bull continued, as well as set out a new strategy that has seen it set aggressive targets, including an aim to enter Nigeria as it seeks to double its share of the African market.

Absa shares were up 4.2 percent at 182.9 rand by 1336 GMT, with traders saying that a new CEO could spur growth by bringing a new perspective.

Lucas-Bull said with the separation from Barclays on track and the final elements of the strategy announced in December, now was a good time for Ramos to depart ahead of her reaching retirement age this year.

Jan Meintjes, a portfolio manager at Absa investor Denker Capital, said he was pleased the bank, which had been losing market share and top talent, was seeking an external candidate.

“More of the same thinking is probably going to get you more of the same results,” he said, adding he wants the new boss to focus on getting the basics right and make sure Absa’s products and services are competitive.

Editing by James Macharia and Louise Heavens

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