US private equity group JC Flowers is lining up bids for at least four UK building societies as part of an ambitious plan to create a "supermutual" that could be partially floated on the London stock market in five years.
Names in the frame are believed to be West Bromwich, Skipton, Norwich & Peterborough and Principality which combined have more than 1.7 million members, the Observer reports.
Former Goldman Sachs banker Christopher Flowers, who founded the US private equity firm, is already acquiring a 40% stake in Kent Reliant, which has a membership of 180,000.
Kent would be a platform for further UK expansion, with Flowers aiming to create a business unique to the UK but which mirrors the structure of Crédit Agricole, according to the Observer. The French institution is 60% owned by 39 retail co-operative banks, with the remaining shares traded on the Paris exchange.
Flowers wants to build up a minority holding in a newly created British super-mutual that could be sold via a partial flotation. Conversion could involve a "sweetener" to members in the form of free shares, as well as a promise that members would keep overall control.
Many UK societies are struggling as regulators force them to hold extra capital in the wake of the financial crisis, but they cannot turn to shareholders or the debt markets for funds.
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