French financial community scrutinizes Italian negotiations

At the end of July, Italy's second-largest bank, UniCredit, announced that it was in negotiations with the Italian Ministry of the Economy. It wishes to buy out the government's 64% stake in Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. If this takeover goes ahead, it will have a direct impact on CNP Assurances, a subsidiary of Banque Postale, and AXA.

Direct consequences for two French insurers

At the end of July, negotiations between UniCredit and the Italian government were officially confirmed by the country's second-largest bank. In 2017, the government participated in the rescue of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS), the world's oldest bank still in operation, and has since owned a 64% stake, which UniCredit now wishes to buy back.

These negotiations are being closely followed by the French financial sector: AXA is BMPS's insurance partner, with a stake of less than 3% in its capital; while CNP Assurances, a subsidiary of La Banque Postale, took over 51% of the life insurance company Aviva S.p.A, which it co-owns with UniCredit, in March.

Should these negotiations succeed, the consequences for the 2 French insurers would be direct, especially as the Italian savings market is of great interest to the French financial sector.

An attractive Italian market for French finance

Whilein France, traditional life insurance policies have become unprofitable for insurers due to historically low interest rates, unit-linked life insurance policies are widespread on the Italian market, making it all the more attractive for French insurers.

AXA has already announced its intention to become the insurance partner of the new entity formed by UniCredit and BMPS. While CNP Assurances has not yet commented on the deal, we do know that La Banque Postale is determined to consolidate its international presence through its subsidiary CNP, already present in Italy and Brazil.

Crédit Agricole, which recently acquired the Italian bank Credito Valtellinese, also known as Creval, is also closely monitoring the negotiations. The mutual group, whose second domestic market after France is Italy, may well want to strengthen its presence in this country, where it is already number 6, with a network of 1,200 branches.

Jérôme Grivet, the company's CFO, did not mention any plans for a new acquisition in Italy, but neither did he formally rule out the possibility. To reassure investors worried about missing out on their dividends, he merely stated that Crédit Agricole would not be holding any capital with a view to an acquisition. This would not prevent the Group from carrying out a medium-sized operation, according to some analysts.