Irish Life's Canadian parent, Great-West Lifeco, is one of two bidders vying to take over Dublin-based Standard Life International and Ark Life, according to sources.
The businesses are being sold by London-listed insurance services company Phoenix Group and are grouped together under the umbrella name of Phoenix Europe. The other final bidder in the process is European Life Group (ELG), an affiliate of San Francisco-based investment firm Sixth Street. The value of the bids are not known.
Phoenix Group bought the life insurance arm of Standard Life Aberdeen for £3.24 billion (€3.73 billion) in 2018, a year after the latter was established via a merger to form one of the world's largest asset managers.
Phoenix retained the Standard Life brand under a licensing arrangement before agreeing in February to buy the name outright. Standard Life Aberdeen announced last week that it was changing its name to Abrdn in a rebranding exercise that has attracted widespread derision.
Phoenix Group decided in 2018 to move billions of euro of policies from its Standard Life Assurance unit in the UK to Standard Life International in Dublin in order to be able to continue to serve customers in the European Union post-Brexit.
Standard Life International's assets under management grew from €6.85 billion to €28.8 billion in 2019, mainly as a result of the transfer, according to its latest set of accounts filed with the Companies Registration Office. It created the second-largest life company in the Republic as a result, after Irish Life. The company, led by chief executive Nigel Dunne, is responsible for Irish, German and Austrian customer policies.
Separately, Phoenix Group inherited AIB’s former life and pensions business Ark Life in 2019 under its purchase of a company called ReAssure Group from Swiss reinsurance giant Swiss Re. Ark Life, which has been in run-down since 2012, had €1.9 billion of assets on behalf of more than 158,000 policies as of the end of 2019, according to CRO filings.
A spokeswoman for Phoenix Group said that the company had confirmed last November that it was “assessing strategic options” for its European business after receiving expressions of interest from potential suitors. She declined to comment further. Spokesmen for Irish Life and ELG declined to comment on their involvement in the process.
Phoenix Group’s latest annual report shows that its European division posted an operating profit of £44 million last year, less than 4 per cent of the company’s wider £1.2 billion profit. However, the unit’s £1.22 billion of gross premiums written made up more than a quarter of the £4.71 billion total.
ELG is seen in industry circles in Dublin as the most likely acquirer of Phoenix Europe, with Great-West Lifeco said to be more preoccupied at present with establishing a life and savings joint venture with AIB. The Canadian group would also have greater competition issues as owner of Irish Life.
AIB chief executive Colin Hunt told shareholders at the bank's annual general meeting that negotiations on establishing the venture with Great-West Lifeco were progressing well.