The move could give Aegon the presence it has long been seeking in the UK long-term savings market. Although Equitable has been a big contributor to the Dutch group's earnings, Aegon has admitted for some time that the business has neither the scale nor the brand presence that it is really seeking and which Widows would provide.
A bid now would run counter to the group's stated philosophy of avoiding contested situations. However industry sources say that the opportunity may be such that Aegon is prepared to set aside that principle in this case.
Given Equitable's presence in Edinburgh in asset management, and back office administration, a deal would provide scope for cost savings which might enable Aegon to justify a higher price than the pounds 7bn being offered by Lloyds. There is clearly a potential overlap with Scottish Widows' own investment management and administration in Edinburgh. An Aegon spokesman refused to comment yesterday.
City sources have said over the past few days that a continental European buyer is far more likely to be in a position to offer to beat Lloyds' price. The Royal Bank of Scotland which was rumoured to be considering a counter-bid specifically ruled itself out yesterday. Other British high street banks have refused to comment officially. Investment bankers said Lloyds' bid was reckoned to be generous, but not a knock-out blow that would deter other bidders from moving in.