(Adds details on dividend, international expansion)
By Jesús Aguado
SANTANDER, Spain, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Ana Botin, the new chairwoman of Santander, told shareholders on Monday she would defend the legacy of her father at the helm of the euro zone’s biggest bank and her priorities include maintaining its generous dividend policy.
Appointed last week after the sudden death of her father, Emilio, Botin also said she would push ahead with the international diversification of the lender.
“The attention towards you, the shareholders, was always one of his priorities and the dividend at the centre of the bank’s concerns,” she said.
“Looking ahead, we will stick to this strategy.”
Santander, which was transformed by Emilio Botin from a local lender into a global systemic bank after he took over from his own father as chairman in 1986, now has major operations in 10 countries including Britain, Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Argentina and Poland.
Banking sources told Reuters last week that Ana Botin may now prioritise further growth in the United States as well as in Poland.
Santander’s diversification abroad helped protect it from Southern Europe’s recent crippling economic downturn and it was one of few international banks that did not suffer a single quarterly loss over the last six years following the financial crisis.
It has also maintained a generous dividend policy with shareholders throughout this period.
Santander’s dividend yield currently tops 7.7 percent, well above the 3.6 percent offered by Spanish competitor BBVA , the 2.8 percent of euro zone challengers BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank or the 4.6 percent of HSBC.
Speaking at an extraordinary shareholders meeting in Santander, northern Spain, Ana Botin said prudent risk-taking, a focus on clients and retail banking and the capacity to take advantage of acquisition opportunities were her father’s management achievements.
“My ambition is to continue this success story, to which I will dedicate my greatest efforts,” she said.
She said the Spanish bank’s strong national units, most of them listed, were a strength that would deliver future growth.
Ana Botin has been head of the bank’s UK arm for the last four years and was preparing it for a possible initial public share offer next year.
Santander UK’s board is meeting this week to pick a new chief executive, with newly-arrived deputy Nathan Bostock seen as frontrunner for the job.
Botin also reaffirmed on Monday that Santander’s management expects a rise in earnings this year.
“As we come to the end of the third quarter I can tell you that the positive trends in the group’s results are continuing,” she said.
Faltering growth in Brazil is weighing on profitability at Santander’s Latin America division but as Spain and the rest of Europe is slowly emerging from one of its worst economic crises ever, the bank reported profits up 22 percent in the first half of the year.
Shareholders on Monday also backed a 4.7 billion-euro ($6 billion) plan to buy the 25 percent of its Brazilian unit it does not already own. (1 US dollar = 0.7738 euros) (Writing by Julien Toyer; Editing by Paul Day and Greg Mahlich)