Zurich, Generali and Allianz thought to be among likely bidders

The deadline for first-round bids for the insurance division of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBSI) passed yesterday with six to eight insurers expected to table offers for the business, which has gross written premiums of £7bn.

Likely bidders for the division, which is valued at £6bn to £8bn, include Zurich and Allianz in Europe, Allstate and AIG in the US and Ping An of China. Potential buyers will be narrowed to a shortlist within a month.

Zurich is seen as the frontrunner, but sources said private equity buyers, having been rebuffed two weeks ago, could be back in the frame. Although interest in RBSI from non-sector suitors was thought to have been cooled by the credit crunch, a senior industry source said a joint bid from private equity and a trade buyer could be mounted.

RBS is attempting to raise £4bn in tier-one capital from a sale of its assets, which would require at least £6bn for its insurance division – a valuation that analysts have increasingly started to question.

Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy could be tempted to buy RBS’s 50% stake in its Tesco Personal Finance joint venture, which was created in 1997.

It is believed Tesco could take control of the business and outsource-- services currently provided by the insurer.