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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands-Eureko B.V., an alliance of six European financial services firms, is looking to significantly expand its presence through acquisitions.
Amsterdam-based Eureko, the holding company for the alliance, has expressed an interest in acquiring French insurer Groupe des Assurances Nationales, which the French government is readying for sale.
In addition, Eureko recently signed a cooperation agreement with Pol'nobanka a.s., a Slovakian bank, to develop bancassurance business in Eastern Europe and also acquired a majority stake in a bond insurer Pol'nobanka previously controlled.
The privatization of GAN was cleared by the French government's July 18 announcement that it would continue with the privatization of the state-owned insurer, as initiated by the preceding government. In addition, the European Commission last week approved the French government's plan for a 23.76 billion franc ($3.82 billion) capital infusion for the company, with several stipulations.
Those include that the company be privatized no later than June 30, 1998; that GAN sell off its troubled banking and real estate units, as well as other assets to raise at least 2.4 billion francs ($386.2 million) in cash; and that GAN spin off at least 50% of its international operations.
The French government still has to approve the aid package.
Eureko Alliance Chief Executive Officer Jeff Medlock said the organization would "ensure that GAN retains its essential French identity whilst benefiting from participation in a dynamic European network."
Eureko, however, has not yet made a formal bid for the French insurer. Other potential bidders that have publicly expressed interest in GAN are: French insurer Assurances Generales de France; the French subsidiary of Allianz A.G. Holding; Dutch banking insurance group Fortis;and a consortium led by Zurich Insurance Group and France's MAAF Assurances.
If Eureko were to acquire GAN, the alliance would become Europe's third-largest insurance group, with a combined premium volume of more than 40 billion Dutch guilders ($19.3 billion), said Mr. Medlock.
The consortium includes: Achmea Holding N.V. of Amsterdam; BCP Ocidental of Lisbon, Portugal; Friends Provident Life Office of Surrey, England; Gothaer Insurance Group of Cologne, Germany; Topdanmark Forsikring A/S of Copenhagen, Denmark; and WASA International Insurance Co. Ltd. of Stockholm, Sweden.
Members of the consortium have cross-shareholding agreements with each other.
Meanwhile, Eureko and Bratislava-based bank Pol'nobanka have agreed to jointly develop programs that blend insurance and banking products.
Eureko also has acquired an 80% stake in Bratislava-based Union Poistovacia, an insurance affiliate of Pol'nobanka, which retains a minority stake in Union.
Pol'nobanka was the first private bank to be created in the former Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism in 1989. Today, it is the fourth-largest bank in Slovakia.
Union Poistovacia a.s. became a private insurer in the first wave of privatizations in May 1992. Prior to 1989, it was part of state-owned Pol'nobanka, a Eureko spokeswoman said. After privatization of both companies, Pol'nobanka was Union's largest shareholder until the Eureko deal.
Union today has about 2% of the Slovak insurance market's premium volume and specializes in surety bonds. It does not write life or health insurance and has only a small share of the country's property and motor insurance markets. the spokeswoman said, however, that future plans are to develop products in those lines.