Australia’s second largest financial planning group, Professional Investment Services, has granted an exclusivity period to Aviva to complete due diligence with a view to acquiring 20% of the shares in Professional.

Completion of the acquisition by Aviva remains conditional on a number of matters, including the successful completion of Aviva’s due diligence, Aviva board approval and agreeing to the form of the necessary documentation to effect the transaction. Aviva already holds a 6.9% share in Professional Investment Services (PIH).

Robbie Bennetts, CEO of PIH, said: We have been in an investigation and evaluation process for some time, proceeding along a dual path of evaluating both a listing and a trade sale. Today’s decision creates an opportunity for a combination of both with a strong partner in Aviva working with us.

Mr Bennetts further stated that it was PIH’s objective to grow new business by 40% in 2005 with the launch of the Back to Business program.

Allan Griffiths, CEO of Aviva, commented: We are delighted to be given the opportunity to proceed on an exclusive basis to conduct due diligence. We see PIH as more than just a financial planning business. Its core capability is distribution and I can see that, if the transaction proceeds, both organizations will add significant value to each other as they have complementary skills.

According to reports, Aviva beat six other bidders, including Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, to become the preferred bidder.