January 23, 2017 / 10:15 AM / a year ago

Thailand's Siam Commercial Bank seeks bids for insurance business-sources

SINGAPORE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Siam Commercial Bank Pcl (SCB) has begun to formally seek bids for its life insurance business in a sale that could raise about $3 billion for Thailand’s third-biggest lender, said people with knowledge of the process.

Prudential PLC, AIA Group > and Manulife Financial Corp are among insurers weighing a bid for SCB Life Assurance, the people said.

SCB was looking to sell a 49 percent stake in the unit last year, but the process was delayed due to expected changes in foreign shareholder rules governing the sector, according to separate sources aware of the process.

SCB was looking to sell the unit last year, but the process got delayed due to expected changes in foreign shareholder rules governing the sector, said separate sources aware of the process.

Whether it sells all or only part of the business depends on the offers it receives and who they are from, the people said. First round bids are expected to be submitted by early February, they added.

Thailand caps foreign companies’ stakes in domestic insurance ventures at 49 percent, but may permit higher holdings on a case-by-case basis.

The deal is expected to include the rights to sell insurance products through SCB’s 1,200 branch network. The so-called bancassurance model is lucrative for banks as global insurers are keen to pay hefty fees for access to lenders’ branch networks and for exposure to a rapidly growing middle class in developing markets, such as Thailand.

SCB Life is ranked fourth in Thailand’s life insurance market, with Muang Thai Life Assurance Public Co as the market leader.

Other major players are AIA, France’s AXA, which has a deal with Krung Thai Bank, and Thai Life Insurance.

Southeast Asia is seen as a growth region for foreign insurers, who are attracted by relatively faster growth rates of life premiums and the region’s low insurance penetration.

The sources for this story declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

SCB’s Chief Executive Officer Arthid Nanthawithaya declined to comment. Prudential, AIA and Manulife declined comment. (Additional reporting by Manunphattr Dhanananphorn in BANGKOK; Editing by Martin Howell in SINGAPORE)

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