National Australia Bank Leads Race for Citi’s Retail Unit


National Australia Bank Ltd. has emerged as the front-runner for Citigroup Inc.’s Australian retail assets, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The country’s third-largest bank is in advanced discussions over the purchase of the unit, valued at more than $1 billion, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are private.

National Australia confirmed its interest in a statement Tuesday. “NAB regularly assesses opportunities to acquire businesses that support its growth strategy in core banking markets,” the bank said, adding that the discussions with Citigroup may not lead to a deal.

An agreement with Citigroup would make National Australia Bank the country’s second-biggest credit card player, just behind Commonwealth Bank of Australia. NAB is currently fourth.

Any such transaction is expected to draw antitrust scrutiny, with the regulator warning that it would look closely if the business was being bought by one of the nation’s biggest lenders.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. and ING Bank Australia Ltd., which also expressed an interest in the business, are no longer in the process, the people said. Representatives for Citigroup and the lenders declined to comment.

The sale process for Citigroup’s Australian business is the most advanced out of the 13 retail markets the U.S. bank is seeking to exit, according to one of the people. The deal could be finalized in a month, the people said. Citigroup could fetch as much as $6 billion from the sale of the 13 retail markets, Bloomberg News has reported.

Citigroup, which is looking to sell its entire Australian retail operations in one piece, had A$3.5 billion ($2.6 billion) of credit card assets and A$11.6 billion of loans and finance leases to Australians as of May, according to data from the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, which oversees deposit-taking institutions.

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