• British lender looking to sell 74 consumer branches in France
  • Talks don't include corporate and investment-banking business

Barclays Plc is in exclusive talks with AnaCap Financial Partners LLP to sell its French consumer-banking operations, paving the way for a private-equity firm to oversee a branch network in one of Europe’s most concentrated markets.

Barclays is looking to sell 74 branch offices as well as its life insurance, wealth management and asset-management activities in the country, the London-based company said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday, without giving details of the planned deal. The talks don’t include Barclays’s corporate and investment banking operations in France.

“The goal could be to create a challenger bank, or to resell to a challenger bank,” said Jean-Pierre Lambert, a banking analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in London. “French banks already have a dense network, while online banks like ING are not interested in branches and it wouldn’t be easy for a private bank to absorb broader activities: private equity remains the solution.”

AnaCap, created in 2005, specializes in investing in European financial services. The firm’s portfolio includes commercial bank Aldermore Group Plc in the U.K., Polish lender FM Bank PBP, Equa Bank AS in the Czech Republic and Malta’s Mediterranean Bank Plc.

Other private-equity firms are also targeting European lenders. Apollo Global Management LLC, which in 2013 agreed to buy Spain’s Evo Banco, last month proposed to inject 500 million euros ($565 million) in Genoa-based Banca Carige SpA to help shore up its finances.

“This is an opportunity to acquire an attractive and established banking operation,” Nassim Cherchali, a director at London-based AnaCap, said in a separate statement. “We look forward to build this business further in a market with significant potential.”

Barclays Chief executive Officer Jes Staley has been seeking to accelerate disposals of non-core assets to boost returns. The lender on Wednesday reported a 25 percent drop in first-quarter pretax profit, hurt by a larger loss from selling unwanted assets.

“This transaction, once completed, would effectively finish our exit from continental European branch-based retail banking,” Staley said.

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