SPAIN - Aegon has strengthened its foothold in the Spanish pensions and life insurance market by agreeing to establish a joint venture with savings bank Caja Cantabria.

This new partnership will allow Aegon to sell its products through Caja Cantabria's network of 170 branches and to half a million clients, primarily in Spain's northern province of Cantabria, the company said.

"The agreement will complement Aegon's existing partnerships in Spain with Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo, Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de Navarra and Caja de Badajos. The latest agreement provides Aegon with access to almost 1,800 bank branches with approximately 3.5m customers across Spain," Aegon added.

"The pensions market in Spain is not highly developed yet. Although we are mainly working on group contracts currently, the savings banks provide access to the individual customers," Aegon spokesman Greg Tucker explained. "The Baja Cantabria, for example, covers 95% of the region's inhabitants."

According to Tucker, Aegon's key strategy is to keep on searching for cooperation with regional savings banks across Spain, for an increased geographical coverage.

"The challenge is to find successful partnerships in this important growth market," he stressed.

This lastest transaction is expected to close during the fourth quarter of 2007, according to the company, and subject to regulatory approval.

The €17bn Caja Cantabria offers a wide range of financial produces and services, not just in traditional products for saving, credit and investment, but includes more specialised products such as leasing, factoring, investment funds and insurance. The bank reported a pre-tax net income of €68m last year.