Swiss-backed Churchill Insurance has declined to comment on mounting speculation that it may launch a bid for the UK arm of Groupama, which is being sold by its French parent.

The Churchill group, which includes commercial insurer NIG, has made a number of acquisitions this year, including the general insurance business of Pearl Assurance and travel claims administrator Inter Assistance.

The personal lines insurer Churchill has a cash-rich parent in Credit Suisse, which is interested in growing its general insurance interests, according to a Churchill source.

But she would not comment on suggestions that the insurer may be interested in adding Groupama, which has a significant property and casualty business, to its portfolio.

NIG writes a diverse spread of commercial business in the following categories; property (40%), liability (20%), motor trade (20%) and motor fleet (20%).

Manager of NIG's commercial division, Lyn Carslake, would not comment directly on speculation regarding Groupama. But he did confirm that the insurer had plans to expand its capacity to write commercial business.

He said: “We are currently in the process of developing our business with Churchill, which includes managing the commercial business it recently acquired from Pearl.”

Carslake added that NIG's commercial strategy was to grow organically: “We are focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but we are developing our capabilities to handle larger business in this market.

“We are building a stronger and broader branch network with the opening of a number of new branches and increasing the size of our existing offices in the larger cities.”

Groupama said it hoped to secure a buyer by December 31, 2001.