India’s Bharti Group to buy out French partner AXA’s stake in JV

By Hritam Mukherjee

BENGALURU (Reuters) -Bharti Group will acquire French insurer AXA’s 49% stake in Bharti AXA Life Insurance Co, the Indian conglomerate said on Wednesday, taking full control of a venture that was jointly run for nearly two decades.

It was not immediately clear if the deal marks the French insurer’s exit from the South Asian country. Meanwhile, Bharti said it was in talks with other investors to scale up the business by partnering or combining with their entities.

Bharti and AXA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for additional information on the deal nor did they disclose the financial details.

The sector has seen a spate of deals this year as a booming stock market is helping insurers lock in profits from their investments and consolidate their operations in a market dominated by the state-backed Life Insurance Corporation of India.

British United Provident Association (BUPA) is set to become the majority owner of Niva Bupa Health Insurance after it struck a deal to buy a portion of PE firm True North’s stake in the JV.

India’s billionaire Burman family is also seeking to buy an additional stake of about 26% in Religare Enterprises, in a move to capitalise on the country’s largely untapped insurance space.

“There is ample scope for life insurance to grow in India. Rising population and increased longevity, coupled with a large slab of middle-class taxpayers, will push up demand for protection and annuity plans,” said Avinash Singh, senior research analyst at Emkay Global Financial Services.

Bharti’s JV deal, made through its Bharti Life Ventures arm, is expected to close by December this year, subject to regulatory approvals.

The company competes with HDFC Life Insurance, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, SBI Life Insurance and LIC in a market ranked ninth in the world, according to the insurance regulatory body’s latest annual report.

Bharti, which owns India’s No. 2 telecom carrier Bharti Airtel, also operates Bharti Realty and runs packaged foods company Del Monte Foods Pvt Ltd in India in partnership with Del Monte Pacific.

(Reporting by Hritam Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Anil D’Silva)