Saturday 18 November 2017

The Punt: KBC Belgium proves bankers and farmers can harvest investments

KBC Group CEO Johan Thijs
KBC Group CEO Johan Thijs

KBC Bank's suits hit Dublin this week, after the lender confirmed the decision to stick with the Irish market and target growth here.

If the Belgians thought the news would draw a line under months of will-they-won't-they speculation about KBC's plans here they were mistaken.

KBC Group ceo Johan Thijs explicitly left the door open to Irish M&A, the kind of thing that gets analysts and journalists into paroxysms of speculation. Thijs is adamant no deal is currently in the works, saying repeatedly he's "not looking at any file," at a press conference on Friday.

But he also said he wants KBC Ireland to eventually match the banking and insurance model of the parent group. If KBC is an acquiror, insurance is where it is likely to strike. The obvious target is FBD, not least because its shares have been in the doldrums. FBD's rural weighted insurance customers would complement nicely KBC's more urban mortgages base.

Would farmer-backed FBD's agricultural base cleave as loyally to a Belgian blow-in though?

The gaps might not be so great. One of KBC's core shareholders is, and has always been, the Belgian Farmers' Union, the Punt learned this week.

Irish Independent

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