* Rose seen as leading candidate to succeed CEO McEwan
* Move comes as RBS seeks exit from state ownership
* McEwan has played down rumours of his imminent exit (Adds quote, background context)
LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Royal Bank of Scotland on Wednesday said it had appointed Alison Rose to the role of deputy chief executive of NatWest Holdings, in a sign of her increasing prominence at the state-owned lender.
Rose, who has long been seen by analysts and investors as the leading internal candidate to succeed RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan, will deputise for him ‘both internally and externally’ in her new role, the bank said.
“Alison has been doing a fantastic job leading our Commercial and Private Banking division,” McEwan said.
“Alison’s commitment and focus on our customers will also be a strong addition to Board discussions and decision-making and this appointment is a reflection of that,” he added.
The appointment comes as RBS strives towards an exit from state ownership, a decade on from its 45.5 billion pound government bailout at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
Investors have speculated intensely about when McEwan, who was appointed CEO in October 2013, might leave his role.
The New Zealander has steered RBS through a hefty restructuring, a $4.9 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic mortgages and this year delivered the bank’s first dividend since the crisis.
McEwan has played down talk of an imminent exit, stressing his commitment to a strategic plan for RBS through to 2020.
NatWest Holdings is RBS’s main operating unit, housing its core retail banking businesses in Britain.
Rose will take up the role in addition to her existing duties as head of RBS’s commercial and private banking business, the bank said.
Reporting By Lawrence White and Iain Withers, editing by Sinead Cruise