By Pamela Barbaglia
LONDON (Reuters) - European insurers Allianz and Generali are vying with U.S. rival Liberty Mutual to invest in the bancassurance business of Spanish lender BBVA, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The sale, led by Bank of America, kicked off towards the end of last year and will be structured as a joint venture agreement within a network of insurers across Spain, Mexico and Latin America, the sources said.
The entire network is valued at about 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) and provides products from life to health, home and car insurance.
BBVA's insurance unit in Spain reported a 4.8 percent profit rise to 311 million euros in 2018.
The bidders will be able to acquire at least 50 percent in each of BBVA's insurers across the world, with the biggest businesses based in Spain and Mexico, the sources said.
However, BBVA's life insurance network in Spain remains a core part of the Spanish lender and will not be included in the sale, two of the sources added.
BBVA, Allianz, Generali and Liberty Mutual declined to comment.
BBVA, Spain's second largest bank after Santander, is in no rush to finalise a deal, the sources said, and wants to ensure the final buyer has a solid plan to develop its client network across Spain and South America.
Financial investors have not been invited to the process as they would have lacked industry focus and existing operations, they said.
"This is a slow-moving process as bidders need time to finalise their business plans and BBVA wants to be actively involved in drafting the industrial strategy," one source said.
Allianz, Generali and Liberty Mutual are in the process of submitting non-binding proposals, one of the sources said, and final bidders will be shortlisted towards the end of March.
Allianz's finance chief said earlier this month the company had earmarked about 1 billion euros for smaller acquisitions this year.
The German insurer is seen as a possible front-runner for the deal, the sources said, as it intends to revive its Spanish distribution network after an agreement with Banco Popular ended in 2017 after Popular's emergency sale to Santander.
Italy's Generali is also on the acquisition trail and is actively scouting targets in Europe and Asia after cleaning up its portfolio and raising about 1.5 billion euros from a series of divestments, several sources familiar with its strategy said.
Madrid-based insurer Mapfre, which initially looked at the BBVA's unit, has now switched its focus on buying Spanish rival Caser Seguros and no other Spanish buyer has voiced interest in the business, the sources said.
($1 = 0.8780 euros)
(Additional reporting by Andres Gonzalez and Jesus Aguado in Madrid and Giulio Piovaccari in Milan; editing by David Evans)