HSBC hints at deal for ING private bank

HSBC is actively looking to purchase assets in private banking, it said yesterday, reigniting expectations that the bank soon wrap up a deal for units put up for sale by bailed-out Dutch financial group ING.<br /><br />Alexandre Zeller, chief executive of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) confirmed that Europe&rsquo;s largest bank was alive to potential acquisition opportunities, particularly in emerging markets around the world.<br /><br />&ldquo;Certainly the group is committed to expanding private banking. We have no plan to be on the seller&rsquo;s side,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />He added that valuations of private banks had probably reached their lowest point already, suggesting that the bank will seek to do a deal sooner rather than later.<br /><br />Mergers and acquisitions in the banking arena are expected to see a period of increased activity as struggling banks seek to raise capital by disposing of assets.<br /><br />ING, which received &euro;10bn (&pound;9bn) in bailout funds from the Dutch government last year, has put up its Asian and Swiss private banking units, with HSBC believed to be one of the preferred bidders.<br /><br />HSBC, led by chief executive Michael Geoghegan, has declined to comment on negotiations for the units, thought to be worth around $2bn (&pound;1.2bn).<br /><br />But the chances of HSBC winning the race for the assets look increasingly healthy after Boris Collardi, the chief executive of rival bidder Julius Baer said earlier this week that his interest in the units had cooled for the time being.<br /><br />However, banks including Australia &amp; New Zealand Bank (ANZ) and DBS are believed to have remained in the running for the ING businesses.<br /><br />HSBC is one of a handful of major banks in a position to make acquisition after sailing through the depths of the financial crisis relatively unscathed.<br /><br />Earlier this year, the bank was weighing up a bid for part of RBS Asia, putting it in competition with rival bidders Standard Chartered and Australia and New Zealand Group.<br /><br />ANZ eventually bought RBS&rsquo; businesses in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia for a fee of &pound;325m.