Barclays 'interested' in Standard Life Bank

Model outside Barclays branch in Enfield, London

Barclays is back on the acquisition trail as part of its attempt to cash in on its rivals' efforts to sell-off their non-core assets.

The banking giant, which turned to Middle Eastern investors rather than the government to see it through the financial crisis, this week snapped up the Portuguese credit card business of Citibank.

It has also emerged as one of the leading contenders to buy up the banking division of insurance giant Standard Life.

Barclays has been steadily expanding its empire over the past year with acqusitions including the Goldfish credit card business and Macquarie Bank's mortgage book.

Under the Citibank deal, it will acquire around 400,000 credit card accounts, which it eventually intends to merge with its global Barclaycard brand.

Completion of the deal is subject to competition clearance and is expected to occur before the end of 2009. 

Meanwhile, Barclays is one of the frontrunners to buy Standard Life Bank for between £200 million and £300 million. Several groups are believed to have show interest in Standard Life's customers book, with its low level of mortgage defaults.

Discussions are reported to be at an advanced stage with a decision expected shortly.

The move, driven by finance director David Nash, will be music to the ears of Standard Life's investors, who have had doubts over the banking division's fit within the group since it floated on the London Stock Exchange back in 2006.

Standard Life Bank, which made a profit last year of £9.5 million, holds around £5 billion in savings and around £9.7 billion in mortgages - although this has fallen in the past 18 months.

The insurer had high hopes for its banking division which it launched in 1998, intending to compete with the likes of Royal Bank of Scotland by pioneering telephone banking.

However, after a stellar year in 2006, the banking arm went into decline with 2007's underlying pre-tax profits down 16% to £32 million.

Former chief executive Anne Gunther left Standard Life in February and the operation has since been managed by the group's head of customer management, John Gill.

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