Royal Bank of Scotland's insurance arm has kicked off a City PR scramble after issuing a brief to handle a possible multi-billion-pound float later this year.
The majority state-owned banking group is being forced by the EU to sell off its Direct Line Group as a result of its £45bn taxpayer bailout and has put out a call this week to London's financial PR firms to support this process.
It is thought the bank's preferred option is to float the business. A Direct Line IPO is likely to fetch around £4bn in what would be one of the largest London listings in decades.
RLM Finsbury handles RBS' group-level financial comms, but Direct Line is running a separate process to find a long-term comms partner. Finsbury is thought to remain involved in the pitch.
The float or sale is also likely to be subject to intense media scrutiny given its potential size and the Government-owned status of RBS.
While there is no guarantee the London float will go ahead, Direct Line is looking for agencies with specific experience of the capital and equity markets.
The process is being handled by Rob Bailhache, formerly of HSBC and FTI Consulting, who agreed to join RBS' insurance arm late last year.
Bailhache confirmed that the firm had started contacting City agencies this week, stating: 'As Direct Line Group approaches separation from RBS Group, it's important for us to ensure we have the best financial comms agency.
'We've begun a tender process to search for a financial PR agency with strong knowledge of the capital markets to support us in communicating our transformation and strategy to the investment community through media.'
It is understood Direct Line is unlikely to rule out agencies with existing banking and insurance clients, with only FTI Consulting likely to be conflicted due to Admiral Group.
Direct Line timeline
March 2012 RBS names Mike Biggs, ex-finance director of Aviva, as Direct Line chairman, widely seen as a move close to flotation.
February 2012 RBS Insurance Group rebrands as Direct Line Group.
October 2009 European Commission demands RBS sells insurance arm.
October 2008 RBS signs up to £37bn Government bailout.