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RIO DE JANEIRO, March 16 (Reuters) - Banco Santander Brasil SA is eyeing a potential bid for Citigroup Inc's local subsidiary, as the largest foreign lender in the country seeks to expand into banking for wealthy clients, a senior executive said on Wednesday.
Santander Brasil, the local unit of Spain's Banco Santander SA, wants to grow banking and other financial services for high net-worth clients, senior vice president Conrado Engel said at an event with investors in Rio de Janeiro.
Engel's remarks come less than a month after Citigroup unveiled a plan to exit retail banking and credit card operations in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia to curb costs and boost profitability.
At the end of last year, Brazil accounted for about 9 percent of Citigroup's consumer loan book in Latin America, compared with Mexico's 80 percent share.
Citigroup has struggled in Brazil as local lenders have gobbled up market share over the past decade and now control 90 percent of the country's banking assets. Santander Brasil is the only foreign-owned lender among Brazil's top five banks.
The 2015 exit from Brazil by HSBC Holdings Plc has helped Santander Brasil win more wealthy clients as competition escalates. Banco Bradesco SA, the country's No. 2 private-sector lender, paid $5.2 billion to tap the British bank's wealthy clients in Brazil.
"Citi has a small share of Brazil's banking market, but we have special interest in their high net worth segment, which we will eye carefully," Engel, who heads wealth management banking for Santander Brasil, said at the event.
Units in Santander Brasil, a blend of the lender's voting and non-voting shares, gained 3 percent to 16.38 reais on Wednesday. The stock has gained 4.3 percent so far this year. (Reporting by Juliana Schincariol; Writing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal, editing by G Crosse, Leslie Adler)