Global news providers Reuters and The Wall Street Journal are both reporting that Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) is considering selling parts of its wealth management arm that include its life insurance and pension product development businesses.
Sources reportedly told Reuters any deal to sell its life insurance business could be valued at up to $4 billion. This would be a tempting option for ANZ Bank’s new chief in his mission to realign the bank’s operating horizons and find ways to raise cash without having to tip the cap to shareholders again.
ANZ and others banks such as Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC) or National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: CBA) have been forced to raise cash from shareholders recently in order to boost their capital adequacy ratios. The alternative to capital raisings and asset sales is to swing the axe on the dividends that are a well-known sacred cow not to be touched in the minds of retail and institutional investors alike.
Recently the NAB sold 80 per cent of its life insurance business to Japanese insurance operator Nippon Life in a deal valued at around $2.4 billion, while Macquarie Group Ltd (ASX: MQG) also sold its Mac Life division to Swiss insurance giant Zurich in a deal reportedly valued around $300 million.
Life and general insurance operations have something of a dead-weight reputation for many financial services businesses that operate them outside of their core businesses – including AMP Limited (ASX: AMP). It recently reported claims experience losses of $18 million for the quarter ending March 31 2016, as its retail income protection business suffered from increased terminations and claims incidences.
Banks like the NAB, Macquarie and ANZ then need little extra incentive to sell these under-performing, capital-intensive businesses, as in developed countries like Australia life insurance remains a low-margin, competitive, scale game best left to specialist operators.
Growth options are also limited, with the less competitive emerging-markets such as Asia having a graveyard reputation for Western companies looking to build life insurance businesses in the region.
Given the Australian dollar is now hitting multi-year lows once again it would not be a surprise if more overseas insurance giants look to acquire the life insurance businesses of the big banks and others like AMP as I first foreshadowed in this article.
In fact news of any deals could be good news for investors in these businesses over the long term. In morning trade ANZ shares are up 0.1% to $25.02.
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Motley Fool contributor Tom Richardson owns shares of Macquarie Group Limited.
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