Former RSA Boss Fronts Bid For Co-Op Arm

Mark Kleinman, City Editor
Former RSA Boss Fronts Bid For Co-Op Arm

A former chief executive of the company behind the More Than brand is spearheading a private equity tilt to buy the general insurance arm of the struggling Co-operative Group.

Sky News understands that Andy Haste, who stepped down as the boss of RSA Insurance in 2011, is fronting an offer being assembled by Advent International, a buyout firm with a lengthy track record of investing in the financial services sector.

Talks about the bid by Advent are at an early stage and may not result in a formal offer, according to insiders.

Mr Haste, who now serves as deputy chairman of the Lloyd’s of London reinsurance market, is also thought to be working with Advent on its interest in Hastings, the motor insurer which is seeking to sell a stake in itself to raise funds for expansion.

He has worked with the private equity group, which this month sold Domestic & General, a major warranty provider for household goods, in the past, including on a tentative offer for Direct Line before it was floated on the stock market last year by Royal Bank of Scotland.

The emergence of Mr Haste’s involvement in an offer for the Co-op division comes during an important week for the mutual, which is poised to embark on a controversial financial restructuring.

On Thursday, the group - which includes a funeral services operation, pharmacy and supermarket chains, and a large banking business - will report half-year results in which it will announce that it has written off the value of hundreds of millions of pounds of impaired commercial property loans.

Its proposals to fill a consequent £1.5bn black hole in the balance sheet of the Co-Op Bank, which were approved by the industry regulator in June, have angered bondholders who will be forced to take a significant hit on the value of their investments.

The Co-Op’s new chief executive, Euan Sutherland, has insisted that he will not sell any of the mutual’s other assets, including the Funeralcare arm, which has also attracted interest from buyout firms.

His ability to resist such offers may, however, depend to a degree on the price he is able to command for the general insurance unit, with analysts’ estimates varying over its value from £250m to as much as £600m.

The Co-Op’s life insurance operation has already been sold to Royal London for nearly £220m.

Advent declined to comment on its interest in the Co-Op’s general insurance arm or on Mr Haste’s involvement.