Rome vigilant against the approaches of Crédit Agricole and AXA on Banco BPM

Posted Apr 19, 2022, 7:13 PM

Not alarmist, but watchful. Rome intends to make its voice heard against Crédit Agricole, which has just acquired 9.2% of the capital of the third Italian bank Banco BPM and covets its insurance activities. According to our information, the government of Mario Draghi has not shown any opposition to this acquisition of a stake by Crédit Agricole, which is rather well regarded by the Italian authorities.

But he would not see a good eye for a possible French offensive aimed at taking control of this bank called to establish itself as the third Italian banking center behind Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, according to a source close to the Treasury. Without directly targeting Crédit Agricole, distrust of France, which surfaces as soon as an economic file opens, remains latent.

Government veto power

The government reserves the right to use its “Golden Power”, its special power to protect companies deemed to be of national interest. In the banking and insurance sector, any acquisition of more than 10% of the capital of an Italian company by a foreign investor is subject to prior authorization, with the right of veto from the government.

So far, the French bank has not declared its intention to exceed this threshold. “Crédit Agricole has not requested authorization from the supervisory authorities to cross the threshold of 10% of the capital of Banco BPM”, even specified the group on April 7, revealing its surprise increase in the capital of the third Italian bank. , a year after its acquisition of the regional bank Creval.

“Franco-French Derby”

But while AXA has invited itself into the landscape by coveting the insurance activities of Banco BPM, the subject threatens to take a political turn. “Who will referee the Franco-French derby? asks the centre-left daily La Repubblica. “Emmanuel Macron wants to get his hands on our savings, the Palazzo Chigi is on alert”, headlines the right-wing newspaper “Libero” little known for its sense of proportion.

For its part, Banco BPM does not want to sell off its insurance activities. “They are at the heart of our strategy”, insist sources close to the third Italian bank, while Crédit Agricole has just sent a letter to the bank to submit a non-binding offer to buy back its insurance activities, valued around 1.5 billion euros.

AXA in ambush

According to Bloomberg, Crédit Agricole’s offer is intended to deter French rival Axa. The latter would indeed lead preliminary discussions with the Italian group with a view to acquiring a majority stake in its insurance activities. The French insurer would thus position itself in the perspective of the takeover by the Italian bank of several local insurance companies of which it currently shares ownership with partners.

The agreements binding them begin to expire at the end of 2023. Or even earlier in the case of the French insurer Covéa, which announced its early withdrawal from the company jointly owned with Banco BPM, Bipiemme Vita, for July 2022.

Since its creation in 2017, resulting from the merger between Banco Popolare and Banca Popolare di Milano, Banco BPM has reorganized its asset management, insurance and consumer credit activities. Its boss Giuseppe Castagna has made it the guarantee of its profitability and its attractiveness but above all the heart of its strategic plan 2021-2024. It provides for “the internalization of insurance activities by the end of 2023”. If he then brings in a new partner, it will come at a high price.

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