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Anglo examining final bids for sale of wealth management arm

ANGLO Irish Bank has received a "handful" of final bids for its wealth management business but will not make a final decision on whether to sell the unit until the new year.

The bids were submitted at the end of November and include both Irish and international buyers. Sources confirmed that none of Anglo's former executives is involved in the final shortlist, though some were involved at an early stage.

The exact number of final bids is unclear, but the Irish Independent understands that nine expressions of interest were received in May, with five firms invited to submit final bids.

The state-owned bank, which is now known as Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), told staff in October that it expected to make a decision on the wealth management sale by the end of the year.

Sources yesterday confirmed that the bank was still working through details with final bidders with a view to taking a "proactive step" in January. The bank has always maintained it would only sell the 50-person unit if an attractive price could be obtained.

The sale has been complicated by the eurozone crisis, but sources said there was no prospect of the bank postponing the sale until markets normalised, as the Government did with the sale of Irish Life Assurance.

Sources close to the process also stressed that it was "too early" to say whether a sale would be achieved.

The wealth management unit has about €500m under management, largely divided between equity funds, property investments and cash. The business has been in "standstill mode" for a number of months, with no new policies sold. The nature of the investments means bidders have to evaluate possible legal issues and the strength of the underlying assets, adding complexity to the deal.

Buyers will also have to go through the Central Bank's fitness and probity tests, since the wealth management business is a regulated entity in its own right. Anglo imposed a "probity" stage to the bid process, to weed out any bids supported by ex-executives who had outstanding legal issues with the bank.

The sale of wealth management is not expected to be a significant contributor to Anglo Irish Bank's capital or cash base, but it would see about 50 staff leave the bank's books.

The bank is close to completing the $9.5bn (€7.3bn) sale of its US loan book, and management's attention is now expected to shift to options for Anglo's €9.5bn UK portfolio.

IBRC's business plan also makes provisions for auction of Irish Nationwide's €2bn residential mortgage book when market conditions improve.

While market conditions remain challenging, the healthy level of interest shown in Irish Life & Permanent's sub-prime mortgage lender Springboard may inspire early action on the Nationwide mortgage book.

Irish Independent