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Fast track on multiple Aviva sales to shock City

New chairman selling £6bn divisions to sharpen the insurer's focus

Aviva is much closer to securing the sale of its underperforming businesses than investors realise, say leading City sources.

Simon English

Under the leadership of new chairman John McFarlane, the giant insurer unveiled a radical shake-up on Thursday that includes a major management overhaul.

It also said it has put 16 divisions that deploy capital of £6bn up for sale with immediate effect as it looks to focus its operations.

Those divisions are said to include South Korea, UK large-scale bulk-purchase annuities and small Italian partnerships.

At the end of last week Aviva managed to more than halve its remaining stake in Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd, raising £318m.

The deal means it is left with just under 20 per cent of the business, which cannot be sold for at least another six months. However, given that demand for its stake was very high, finding buyers for the rest of Delta Lloyd should not prove hard.

Aviva refuses to say whether its US life arm, bought for £2bn in 2006, is on the block, though analysts are convinced a deal would make good sense and represent a clean break with the tarnished regime of Andrew Moss, who quit as chief executive in May.

The American adventure is seen in some quarters as Moss's gravest error. "The disposals are quite well advanced. People will be surprised," said one source.

"We are talking weeks, not months. The US economy is improving so buyers of that business are there. They are selling the rubbish and keeping the good stuff. That means they raise less money than if say, they sold the Canada arm, which is a good business. But it is also telling the market that the capital position is not as bad as some fear."

Aviva declined to comment on the sales process. Mr McFarlane said last week: "Shareholders think our business is too complex, that our capital levels are weaker and more volatile than our peers. We have had too many changes of strategy."