* Santander Brasil hires Engel to head retail banking unit
* Engel quit HSBC unit on Monday, had been head since 2009
* Follows HSBC failure to sell consumer finance unit
By Aluisio Alves and Guillermo Parra-Bernal
March 20 (Reuters) - Banco Santander Brasil, the nation's largest foreign bank, hired Conrado Engel, the former head of the Brazil unit of rival HSBC Holdings, to oversee retail banking amid government efforts to lower borrowing costs and encourage competition in the industry.
Engel, 54, will join the Sao Paulo-based bank at the start of next month, Santander Brasil said in a statement on Tuesday. HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, said on Monday that Engel was stepping down after leading its Brazil unit since June 2009.
The move underscores Santander Brasil's plans to grow more rapidly in consumer lending in Latin America's largest economy now that interest rates are set to fall to single-digit levels and a resilient job market and higher household income spur more demand for loans, credit cards and mortgage credit.
As head of HSBC, Engel helped the British bank become Brazil's No. 2 foreign lender. But he failed early this year to complete the sale of Losango, a consumer finance unit that HSBC bought in 2003 for $815 million, sources told Reuters at the time.
Engel replaces Jose Berenguer, who quit to set up an investment fund focused on private credit at asset manager Gavea Investimentos, controlled by JPMorgan Chase & Co. HSBC had said on Monday that Engel would remain as an adviser until the end of March.
"We are sure that Conrado will bring valuable experience to a team that is strengthening at a very important moment for Santander in Brazil," Santander Brasil Chief Executive Officer Marcial Portela Alvarez said in the statement.
Santander Brasil is the local subsidiary of Spain's Banco Santander, Europe's second-largest lender.
Santander Brasil has been struggling to win clients in the country from local banks, and since its initial public offering late in 2009 has failed to grow faster than peers - especially in retail banking.
Since the early 2011 ouster of Jose Paiva, who led the retail banking unit for 14 years, many key executives at Santander Brasil have left, including former CEO Fabio Barbosa and chief economist Alexandre Schwartsman - fanning worries among investors over strategy.
Only a third of Santander Brasil's 9 million account holders buy other services such as credit cards, overdraft loans and other services from the bank. Portela has pledged to expand in those areas while making Santander Brasil even stronger in the highly lucrative segments of investment banking and asset management.
Santander Brasil also said on Tuesday its executive vice president of branding and marketing, Fernando Martins, is leaving the bank.