BNP Paribas executives told the Dutch government that the French bank would be interested in buying state-owned lender ABN Amro, according to people familiar with the matter.
A combination of France’s biggest bank by market capitalisation and the third largest in the Netherlands would be the first major cross-border deal in a long-heralded wave of consolidation across Europe’s fragmented banking sector.
A meeting between BNP executives and Dutch government officials took place in recent months, with the French bank initially pitching its services as an adviser on stakes of state assets, according to people with knowledge of the talks. But during the meeting, the BNP representatives suggested they would be interested in buying ABN themselves.
The discussion did not trigger detailed talks, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Shares in ABN — which is 57 per cent owned by the government — initially jumped 17 per cent after news of the approach was reported by Bloomberg on Friday lunchtime, before paring gains. BNP shares rose 2 per cent.
BNP last year agreed to sell its San Francisco-based Bank of the West retail banking unit for $16.3bn, raising expectations that it would use the funds as a war chest and jump on opportunities for acquisitions in Europe.
The Paris-based lender has expanded through purchases in the past, including a €9bn swoop on Italy’s BNL in 2006, and a €14.5bn deal for Fortis’ businesses in Belgium and Luxembourg in 2009. It has sought to grow organically as a pan-European group too, by beefing up in corporate and consumer lending and investment banking.
BNP and ABN declined to comment on the approach.
Dutch finance minister Sigrid Kaag said: “The government has said from the outset we are willing to consider a sale. But given the stock market-sensitive information and the privacy and confidentiality of the information that is associated with such a sale we will never comment.”
ABN is still majority owned by the Dutch government after it was bailed out during the financial crisis. The state has not sold any shares since September 2017 and Robert Swaak was brought in as chief executive two years ago and tasked with restarting privatisation of the bank.