Religare in talks with foreign players for JV

Religare in talks with foreign players for JV

New Delhi: Financial services group Religare Enterprises is in talks with two foreign insurers for a joint venture to offer general insurance services in India, and plans to more than quadruple its asset management business in two years.

The company plans to acquire five to seven boutique asset managers in the United States and Europe in 18 to 24 months to take its total assets under management to $60 billion to $80 billion from $15 billion now, chief executive officer Sachindra Nath told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Religare, which operates a life insurance business in partnership with UK-based Aegon, is awaiting the regulator’s approval for offering health insurance.

“We are in discussion with a few players," Nath said, referring to talks about general insurance joint ventures.

India’s general insurance sector, once an exclusive preserve of public-sector insurers, is now populated with several private and foreign players though rules limit latter’s equity participation to 26%.

About two dozen general insurers operate in the country with several of them working in joint venture with leading foreign players such as AIG , Lombard, Allianz and Axa.

Religare Enterprises, founded by the family of billionaire brothers Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh, operates across multiple sectors including brokerage, lending, investment banking and asset management business and is aiming to become a $5-billion firm by 2015.

Together, the brothers rank as the 15th richest in India, according to Forbes.

Religare, looking to build a boutique asset management business, had acquired majority stakes in California-based private equity firm Northgate Capital and Connecticut-based secondary fund-of-funds Landmark last year.

“There is a huge vibrant boutique asset management industry (in US And Europe). The challenge is that they have the constant pressure from LPs (limited partners) to now diversify their investment products into emerging markets. But they just don’t have the bandwidth," he said.

Religare aims to acquire these boutique asset managers, “who are unique in their strategies and combine them on one platform and help each one of them to launch new products for emerging markets," Nath said.

Last week, Religare acquired a 40 percent stake in Mauritius-based asset manager Ipro, which will give it access to much of sub-Saharan Africa, Nath said, without disclosing the deal value. Ipro manages about $300 million in assets.

Religare is also eyeing a banking licence in India.

Reserve Bank of India is in the process of putting in place norms to issue new banking licences, sparking competitive claims from many non-banking financial services firms wanting licences.

Religare, valued at about $1.5 billion, closed 0.4% up on Friday in a Mumbai market that closed 1.68% higher.