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HSBC mulls bid for Aviva's Asian assets in diversity push: sources

A deal would help it beef up its insurance presence in Singapore, parts of S-E Asia

London

HSBC Holdings, the bank that shook up its senior leadership this month, is considering a bid for Asian operations being sold by Aviva as it seeks ways to diversify its business in the region, people with knowledge of the matter said.

London-based HSBC is in the early stages of weighing an offer for at least part of Aviva's Asian business, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. A deal would help HSBC bolster its insurance presence in Singapore and other parts of South-east Asia, they said.

Aviva, the UK insurance conglomerate whose shares have dropped 27 per cent in the last 12 months, confirmed in August it's examining options for its Asian business as new chief executive officer Maurice Tulloch's turnaround takes shape.

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The company's operations in the region could be valued at about US$3 billion to US$4 billion, with an official process slated to kick off later this year, Bloomberg News reported earlier.

Other suitors are also considering bids for the Aviva assets, the people said. No final decisions have been made, and there's no certainty the deliberations will result in a transaction, they added.

Aviva's American depository receipts rose 2.6 per cent at 12.13pm in New York over-the-counter trading. The company's London-listed shares rose 0.1 per cent to close at 358.50 pence on Wednesday. HSBC rose 0.2 per cent to 598.30 pence in London.

Earlier in August, HSBC abruptly ousted chief executive officer John Flint after just 18 months.

Chairman Mark Tucker was increasingly at odds with Mr Flint over the CEO's focus on expansion in China, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

The head of HSBC's China business resigned the same week, and the bank unveiled a new round of job cuts that could eliminate 4,000 roles.

Hong Kong, where HSBC generates more than half of its pre-tax profit, has for weeks been roiled by protests that have left the business and financial elite increasingly concerned about the city's growth prospects. The bank's presence in the rival Asian hub of Singapore is smaller than some international competitors such as Standard Chartered.

Aviva has been capitalising on the surging ranks of middle-class consumers in Asia, many of whom are newcomers to life insurance policies.

Singapore is the company's largest market in Asia, with its life insurance unit there generating £1.3 billion (S$2.18 billion) in new business and £141 million in adjusted operating profit last year, according to its latest annual report. BLOOMBERG