Swiss Life is among the parties interested in Lombard, Friends Provident’s European wealth management business, put up for sale in an overhaul of the embattled life assurer.

First round bids for Lombard are expected to be submitted next week.

Sir Adrian Montague, chairman of Friends, said last month that Lombard’s management had made presentations to about 15 interested parties.

Several life assurers, including La Mondiale, have been eyeing Lombard, according to people familiar with the process, along with several private equity groups.

However, the whole of Friends is seen as vulnerable to a bid after JC Flowers, the US private equity group, abandoned its pursuit of the life assurer last month.

There were suggestions on Friday that Swiss Life’s interest could extend beyond Lombard, which was put up for sale with a price tag of about £700m ($1.4bn).

This was intensified by talk, when JC Flowers walked away, that other interested parties were eyeing Friends but were unlikely to show their hands until the disposal programme was more advanced.

Swiss Life is keen on life assurance for high net worth individuals.

It has operations in Singapore and is expanding to Dubai. As well as Lombard, Friends has other international life businesses.

However, some bankers thought Swiss Life was unlikely to be interested in the whole of Friends.

The life assurer, valued at about £2.8bn, would be too big a bite for Swiss Life, which has a market capitalisation of about £5bn, they said.

They pointed out that Swiss Life sold its UK life business to Resolution several years ago.

Friends and Swiss Life declined to comment.

Under Takeover Panel rules, JC Flowers cannot return for six months unless a rival bidder emerges.

There has also been interest in Pantheon, an intermediary business that Friends has put up for sale.

It is proving more difficult to sell Friends’ 52 per cent stake in F&C, the separately listed fund management business.

However, Friends is hopeful that a deal to shed the stake will be completed by the year end.

Friends was also moving closer to offloading part of its pension scheme, people familiar with the pension transfer market said.

Friends has been looking to transfer its obligations to current pensioners to a third party.

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