Safra buys stake in Sarasin Bank

Safra Group, an international conglomerate with private banking interests, has agreed to buy a controlling stake in Sarasin, a mid-sized Swiss private bank. Safra has entered a share purchase agreement with Rabobank Groep, in a deal worth more than CHF1bn.

The deal gives Safra a majority holding in Sarasin, or 46% of equity interest and 68.6% of voting rights. Rabobank bought a controlling interest in the bank nine years ago. Julius Baer was thought to be another bidder, and expected to make a more generous offer than the CHF36 Safra offered for Sarasin B shares. The transaction is expected to complete in four to six months.

As with many other banking groups, Rabobank Groep is having to pursue a strategy of disposing of non-core assets to meet regulatory demands for stronger capital base. Union Bancaire Privée, a Geneva-based wealth manager, last August agreed to buy ABN Amro Group’s Swiss private- banking business. Julius Baer acquired ING Groep’s Swiss wealth-management unit in 2009.

Safra will continue to support Sarasin’s strategy of positioning itself as an independent leader in private banking. “Over the last nine years, Rabobank has enabled Bank Sarasin to refocus itself, and lay the foundations for today’s successful international business,” Sarasin said.

“The sale of its stake in Bank Sarasin will allow Rabobank to concentrate on its strategic priorities and further strengthen its leading role as a universal financial services provider in the Netherlands, as well as pressing ahead with the growth of its international business with food and agribusiness customers,” Sarasin said.

Basel-based Sarasin reported CHF101.6bn in client funds at the end of June, making it the seventh-biggest Swiss wealth manager. As of June 2011, Safra Group had total assets under management of $109bn.

In a statement, Rabobank commented: “Sarasin and Safra complement one another strategically in terms of their geographic markets. Both are also highly regarded for their reputation in private banking worldwide, as well as their sustainable and conservative approach to their client’s assets.

“Bank Sarasin’s partnership with Safra will achieve enhanced value for the bank and its clients, providing Sarasin with additional distribution channels for its products as well as access to new growth markets. Sarasin has significant private banking presences in key European markets, the Middle East and Asia. Safra has a strong presence particularly in the Americas and Europe.”

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