Switzerland's fourth-largest insurance group, Baloise, which has often been the subject of takeover speculation, is not necessarily set on staying independent, its chief executive Rolf Schäuble told Swiss business magazine "Cash"
"I have never said that we want to remain independent under any circumstances, but we believe in the chance to remain independent," Schäuble said in the interview published on Friday.
Baloise has a market value of about SFr10 billion ($5.65 billion), which would make it an expensive target, Schäuble added.
Zurich Financial Services is the largest shareholder in Baloise with a 28 per cent holding, and Swiss financier Martin Ebner's BZ Group has 14.3 per cent.
The fragmented ownership structure has put Baloise in the takeover spotlight and French insurer Axa, one of the last big insurance companies yet to enter the Swiss market, has been seen as a potential suitor.
"Axa could very well get a bigger company," Schäuble said in response to the speculation. He reiterated that Baloise was keeping its eyes open for a possible banking acquisition in Germany, but was not actively seeking a buy. It wanted first to restructure its offices there - a process expected to be completed in the spring of 2002.
"After that I can imagine that we'll buy a bank," Schäuble said.
Baloise reported a net profit of SFr634 million in 2000 on premium income of SFr6.76 billion.
swissinfo with agencies