* Postal service to be merged with CNP insurance group
* New entity to focus on rural areas
* Merger to help La Poste diversify from mail business
* State fund CDC to transfer stakes in both companies
By Inti Landauro and Leigh Thomas
PARIS, Aug 30 (Reuters) - France is to create a state-owned bank and insurer focused on the country’s rural areas by merging La Poste’s banking arm with insurer CNP Assurances.
The operation will allow La Poste to diversify from the shrinking mail business while CNP, which is 42 percent owned by government institutions, will secure access to La Poste’s widely spread banking customers.
“You can see that there is an absolute necessity to reinvent La Poste’s business,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at a news conference to announce the deal, adding that postal services were declining 7 percent a year and losing 560 million euros ($654.58 million) a year in revenue.
The move is an effort by the government to ensure access to banking and insurance services in rural areas at a time when mainstream banks are shutting many provincial branches. It will also give a lifeline to La Poste, one of the leading employers in the country with around 250,000 workers.
The merger will happen through the state-owned investment fund La Caisse des Depots et Consignations, or CDC, which owns minority stakes in both La Poste and CNP Assurances.
CDC will transfer its 41 percent stake in CNP Assurances to La Poste in exchange for an additional stake in La Poste, that would bring CDC’s total holding in La Poste to somewhere between 50 percent and 60 percent. The government, which directly owns 1 percent of CNP, will transfer its shares to La Poste too.
The mail operator already holds an 18 percent stake in CNP Assurances and has a shareholders’ agreement with French bank BPCE, which also holds 18 percent.
BPCE will retain its stake in CNP Assurances after the transaction, CDC’s chief executive Eric Lombard told reporters.
Since CNP Assurances is a listed company, the operation might force a tender offer on all CNP shares, as required by a French law protecting minority shareholders.
Lombard said the government would ask the regulator for a waiver so it would not be required to make a full bid, but would proceed with the operation even if it did not secure it.
Neither Lombard nor Le Maire said what would happen to CNP Assurances’s minority shareholders following the operation. They collectively hold around 22 percent in the insurer.
CNP Assurances’s market value was 13.8 billion euros on Thursday. The shares were last trading up 0.1 percent.
$1 = 0.8555 euros Reporting by Inti Landauro, Leigh Thomas and Matthieu Protard. Editing by Jane Merriman