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ANZ Said to Narrow Bidders in $3 Billion Sale of Wealth Unit

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(Bloomberg) — Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. has narrowed the list of bidders for its wealth unit, which could fetch more than $4 billion in Australian dollars, or $3 billion in U.S. dollars, people with knowledge of the matter said. 

(Related: Morgan Stanley Moves (Again) to Streamline Wealth Group)

The Melbourne-based bank has invited AIA Group Ltd., MetLife Inc. and Zurich Insurance Group AG to make second-round offers for the business by Sept. 15, according to the people. Shortlisted bidders will now conduct detailed due diligence and hold meetings with the unit’s management, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details are private.

ANZ is divesting its wealth arm, which includes life insurance operations and fund management, as part of a plan to sell legacy assets and focus on its core business. The bank sold its fleet finance operations and its stake in Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank Co. this year, after disposing of other retail and wealth-management businesses in Asia in 2016.

The sale process is going well, and the bank will reduce the number of bidders from as many as five to “two or three,” Chief Executive Officer Shayne Elliott said in an interview Tuesday in Singapore. He didn’t identify any of the suitors.

“By the end of this calendar year, we should be able to announce who we’re going into partnership with and then it will be a very complicated two-year transition,” Elliott said.

Shares of ANZ have risen 25% in Sydney trading over the past year, giving it a market value of about $64 billion in U.S. dollars. A spokesman for ANZ declined to comment on the identity of the bidders. Representatives for AIA, MetLife and Zurich also declined to comment. The Australian Financial Review reported the shortlisted bidders earlier, citing unidentified people.

Australia Commitment

The decision on who buys ANZ’s wealth unit won’t be a matter of simply picking the highest offer, Elliott said, noting all of the bidders had taken slightly different approaches. The bank expects to continue to distribute life insurance, he said.

“We’re going to be joined at the hip for the next 20 years. We need to know confidently that this partner is committed to Australia,” Elliott said.

The lender is also keeping other possibilities on the table, including either demerging the wealth unit or pursuing an initial public offering of the business. “We’re willing to look at all the options,” Elliott said. “One of the solutions could be somewhere in the middle. We pick a partner who buys a sizeable chunk of the business and we float a little part.”

ANZ is also selling its stake in Chinese lender Bank of Tianjin Co. The bank may look to divest its 39% stake in Jakarta-based lender PT Bank Pan Indonesia, though Elliott said there was no active process underway.

“I’d imagine over the next 12 to 20 months, it’d be something we’d engage on,” he said.

As ANZ has sold off legacy businesses, it has also trimmed costs and cut staff at home. Elliott said that overall headcount was down around 7% since January last year, mainly from attrition, and he expects it to drift lower.

“We are in a really tough game,” Elliott said.

— Read Investing in ‘The Lucky Country’ via ETFs ThinkAdvisor.