BPER’s top investor Unipol ups Popolare Sondrio stake to 7 percent
Published: May 27, 2021 05:38 PM
File photo: View of the UNIPOL headquarters in Bologna, Italy Photo: AFP

File photo: View of the UNIPOL headquarters in Bologna, Italy Photo: AFP

Italian financial group Unipol has raised its stake in Popolare di Sondrio to 7 percent, in a move that may ease a tie-up between the regional bank and bigger rival BPER Banca.

Unipol is the top investor in BPER Banca with a stake of nearly 20 percent and has been the leading force behind BPER's merger ambitions.

Unipol Chief Carlo Cimbri said in an interview in March that Popolare di Sondrio was "the most natural" tie-up option for BPER, which is Italy's fifth-largest bank.

The two banks are co-investors in asset management Arca SGR. 

Popolare di Sondrio also has an insurance agreement with UnipolSAI, Italy's No.2 insurer, owned by Unipol.

As Italian banks head toward a new merger wave this year, helped also by tax incentives, Cimbri has been looking at a wider distribution network for UnipolSAI's products.

"The transaction is part of UnipolSai's strategy aimed at contributing to the development plans of the bank, industrial partner of the Unipol Group since 2010 in the non-life and life bancassurance sector," Unipol said in a statement.

BPER had been discussing a merger with larger rival Banco BPM but talks recently hit a wall, several people close to the matter told Reuters.

Cimbri is now targeting Popolare di Sondrio because he wants BPER to play a leading role in a merger deal and retain a strong influence as a shareholder, which has proven hard to achieve in a tie-up with Banco BPM, one person said.

Unipol said on Tuesday UnipolSAI would buy an up to 6.6-percent stake in Popolare di Sondrio, paying a premium of 2-4 percent on the stock's closing price -- for a maximum investment of 125 million euros ($153 million). Unipol already owns 2.9 percent of Popolare di Sondrio.

On Wednesday, UnipolSAI said it had bought a 4-percent stake at a price of 4.15 euros per share, paying a premium of 3.5 percent on Popolare di Sondrio stock's closing price on Tuesday.