The boss of Santander's digital bank says it will be 'the same direction but faster' under new CEO Andrea Orcel

The boss of Santander’s digital bank Openbank says he believes the group’s new CEO won’t radically change the direction of the Spanish giant.

Santander announced this week that Andrea Orcel is set to join the bank as group CEO early next year. Orcel joins from UBS where he has run the Swiss lender’s investment bank since 2012.

Ezequiel Szafir, the CEO of Openbank, told Business Insider by phone on Wednesday: “If anything Andrea will [have] the same strategy but make it go faster and further. I know Andrea only from a few meetings – he’s been linked to the group for a long time – and he is a high-energy individual, super empowering. So it looks like with this decision, Ana [Botin, executive chair of Santander] is taking the group in the same direction but faster.”

Orcel’s “high-energy” reputation is well-known within banking. A Financial Times profile of the 55-year-old noted that he used to run up the hills of Zurich for half an hour a day, hoping the punishing elevations would cram 60 minutes worth of exercise into the shorter timeframe.

Openbank CEO Ezequiel Szafir.SantanderOpenbank CEO Ezequiel Szafir.

“In general, the management team is very excited,” Szafir told BI. “I, in particular, am very, very excited because what he will accelerate is what Openbanking is doing. He’s fully aligned with Ana and our strategy. He comes to work with us and push forward.”

Szafir was talking to BI as part of the launch of a host of new features for Openbank. The online-only bank, which was launched by Santander in 1995 and has more than 1 million customers in Spain, launched a “robo advisor” to help customers automatically save and invest. The product is produced in partnership with BlackRock and German robo-advisor Scalable Capital.

“I think it will change the way Spaniards save and the way Europeans save in general,” Szafir said.

He added: “What we are doing with Openbank is to accelerate the digitalization of the group. How? It’s much easier to do a technology and learn in a bank like ours. We’re a super agile bank and the fact that our infrastructure is based on the cloud and it’s all machine learning – everything that the group needs to do quickly and learn, we do it. And then when it’s done, tested, and mature it can be implemented in other banks.”

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