By Pamela Barbaglia, Carolyn Cohn and Dasha Afanasieva
LONDON (Reuters) - British insurer Hyperion has hired Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) to sound out financial investors for a minority stake sale, sources told Reuters, in a deal that could value the London-based firm at more than 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion).
Hyperion describes itself as the world's largest employee-owned insurance group. It is partly backed by U.S. investment firm General Atlantic, which owns around 35 percent of the business while its employees, including founder and Chief Executive David Howden, hold the rest.
The firm, which mainly operates as an insurance broker, is looking to sell about 25 percent to a sovereign wealth fund or another long-term investor, the sources said, as it seeks to secure growth capital to fund its global expansion.
Hyperion, General Atlantic and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
Preliminary discussions with interested parties are currently taking place, the sources said, adding that General Atlantic and all the existing investors will trim their shareholding as a result of any deal.
General Atlantic came onboard in 2013, acquiring just over 30 percent of Hyperion. At the time its equity value stood at 250 million pounds.
Hyperion, whose portfolio includes brokers Howden and RKH and underwriter Dual, has significantly grown over the past two years, with its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) climbing 82 percent to 103 million pounds in the year ending Sept. 2016.
It could now be valued at more than ten times its EBITDA, one of the sources said, adding its growth rate would appeal to deep-pocketed investors such as Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC.
Its brokerage business competes with the likes of Marsh & McLennan and Aon which trade at about 12-14 times their core earnings.
The sale comes as private equity funds are increasingly taking advantage of pension and sovereign wealth funds to reduce their exposure to their prized assets as they strive to deliver returns for investors in a hotly competitive market for deals.
Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC has been one of the most prolific acquirers this year, mopping up stakes in Norwegian software firm Visma, Swedish home alarms maker Verisure and financial news and data company Acuris, formerly known as Mergermarket.
One of the sources said Hyperion could bring in an investor with a similar profile to finance its expansion.
Hyperion has about 3,800 employees in over 39 countries and more than 20 percent of its workforce owns shares in the insurer and its subsidiaries.
The group, which is active in cyber insurance through a joint venture between its broking arm Howden and Insurisx Inc., generates 48 percent of its revenues in Europe and 36 percent in the Americas while Asia and the Middle East account for 11 and 5 percent respectively.
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