UPDATE 1-BNP Paribas to buy ING China insurance venture stake

Mon Jul 8, 2013 7:25am EDT

Related Topics

* Deal sum not disclosed, unit has 200 mln eur in premiums

* BNP seeking to ramp up Asia growth, ING focusing on Europe

* JV will seek to forge new partnerships -BNP insurance chief (Adds BNP executive comments)

By Lionel Laurent and Matthias Blamont

PARIS, July 8 (Reuters) - BNP Paribas, France's No. 1 listed bank, has taken its first step into China's insurance market by buying Dutch bank ING's stake in a partnership with Bank of Beijing.

BNP is in the early stages of a plan to ramp up revenue and staff in Asia to offset recession in the euro zone, where it is heavily exposed.

ING, meanwhile, is having to shrink into a smaller, Europe-focused bank after it was bailed out by the Dutch government in the 2008 crisis.

The terms of the China deal were not disclosed, but BNP's insurance chief told Reuters on Monday that the joint venture represented 200 million euros ($257 million) in insurance premium income.

"We want to invest in this joint venture and will grow by adding clients, new products and eventually by making new partnerships," Eric Lombard said in a phone interview.

The deal, which has yet to be signed off by regulators, gives BNP a slice of the world's No. 2 insurance market and offers a route to cross-selling with other parts of the French bank, which recently raised its stake in existing partner Bank of Nanjing.

It also shows that top French banks like BNP and Societe Generale are stepping up their investments in China after focusing on more mature, developed banking markets in the past. SocGen last month opened its seventh mainland branch in northeastern China, near the Russian border.

However, smaller French rival Credit Agricole has been cutting its Asia exposure as part of a drive to focus on its home market in the wake of the euro zone crisis. It is in the closing stages of a deal to sell its CLSA Asian brokerage unit to China's CITIC Securities.

ING said in a statement that the sale of its 50 percent stake in the China venture would not have a "material" impact on group results or affect ING's own 13.7 percent stake in Bank of Beijing.

Currently, foreign banks are not allowed to own more than 20 percent of a Chinese lender. Canada's Bank of Nova Scotia said in May that Chinese authorities were reevaluating a proposed deal to sell 20 percent of Bank of Guangzhou to the Canadian bank. ($1 = 0.7792 euros) (Reporting by Lionel Laurent and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Christian Plumb and James Regan)

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