Chief executive Patrick Smith confirms talks as broker looks to grow its branch network.

Swinton has emerged as a frontrunner to buy IAG’s Equity Insurance Brokers (EIB).

A senior source close to the talks said personal lines broker Swinton was interested in EIB’s branch network.

Swinton chief executive Patrick Smith declined to confirm whether Swinton planned to make an offer but did say he had spoken to IAG.

Smith said: “We’ve had a conversation with them. You would expect any organisation in our position to have a conversation.”

EIB has 94 branches in the UK and controls over £200m GWP. Swinton, which currently has 480 branches, has been openly looking to grow its stable to 1,000.

Smith said: “We are a branch-based business and increasing our size is something that has always interested us. We’ve been increasing it consistently and when there are opportunities to buy individual branches or networks we usually look at them.”

EIB could also be attractive to players such as Giles, which is also looking to develop its branch network.

IAG would prefer to offload its UK portfolio as a whole, including Equity Insurance’s broking arm, Hastings, Open & Direct and underwriting agency, Advantage.

But last week IAG UK chief Neil Utley, who has said that the sale of the company’s retail assets would be completed by the end of the year, indicated he may lead a management buy out (MBO) of parts of the business.

As revealed in Insurance Times last week, it is believed that Utley could be lining up a bid with former Venture Capitalist partners Englefield and Duke Street.

Utley has also confirmed that informal approaches had been made from both trade and private equity sources, for parts and the whole of the UK retail portfolio.

IAG UK was unavailable at the time of going to press.