Aviva pushes back bid deadline for Polish unit over Santander contract - sources

Pamela Barbaglia and Stephen Jewkes
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: A logo on the window of the Aviva head office in London

By Pamela Barbaglia and Stephen Jewkes

LONDON (Reuters) - Aviva has pushed back the deadline for final offers for its Polish operations to late March as the British insurer is still haggling with Spanish lender Santander over the renewal of a key distribution agreement in Poland, sources told Reuters.

Three bidders, including Dutch insurer NN Group and Italy's Generali, are vying for the unit which is worth about 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion), three sources familiar with the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Germany's Allianz is also in the race after missing out on Aviva's French business, which was snapped up by mutual insurer Aema Groupe for 3.2 billion euros on Tuesday, the sources said.

A spokeswoman for Aviva confirmed the Polish business was under review, adding the British insurer was "exploring options across our manage-for-value portfolio," which also includes joint venture businesses.

Santander, Allianz and Generali declined to comment, while NN Group was not immediately available.

Aviva, which initially requested binding offers by Feb. 26, needs more time to renegotiate a bancassurance partnership in Poland with Santander, the sources said.

The bid deadline - which has been moved to March 19 - risks being pushed back again as an agreement with Santander is not in sight, one of the sources said.

"They are still haggling and no deal is possible until there's clarity on the new agreement with Santander," this source said.

Generali has emerged as one of the most motivated bidders for the Aviva unit and its boss Philippe Donnet said on Wednesday that Poland was a "key market", adding the Italian insurer would consider any growth opportunity there.

Generali, which has a board meeting on March 10 ahead of its annual results, is expected to discuss the Aviva deal in Poland at a second board meeting scheduled on March 22, two sources said.

Aviva is the second largest life insurer in Poland after state-owned company PZU while NN ranks as the country's third-biggest, according to a report by the Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF).

The British insurer runs one of the biggest networks of life agents in Poland and two key bancassurance partnerships with Santander and ING.

Its Polish business has been growing in recent years despite a general contraction of the country's life insurance market where insurers have moved away from single premium investment products and there has been an increased level of regulatory intervention.

Aviva's portfolio review comes as boss Amanda Blanc is trying to shift the company's focus to its core operations in Britain, Canada and Ireland after a prolonged period of share price weakness.

The London-listed firm, which is due to report 2020 earnings on March 4, announced on Wednesday a deal to sell its 40% stake in a joint venture in Turkey for 122 million pounds ($172 million).

It is also in the final stages of selling the remainder of its Italian business and wants to wrap up that deal and the one in Poland by the end of the first quarter, the sources said.

The Italian exit could be worth about 500 million euros, one of the sources said, and follows the sale of Aviva's stake in Italian life insurer Aviva Vita to joint venture partner UBI Banca for 400 million euros in November.

Panmure Gordon analysts estimated the sale of Aviva's remaining European assets to be worth an overall 2.1 billion pounds, with Italy potentially valued at 600 million pounds and Poland at 1.5 billion pounds.

(Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Stephen Jewkes. Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze, Carolyn Cohn, Gianluca Semeraro and Alex Huebner. Editing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)