Italian bank UniCredit is closing in on a deal to merge its asset management arm, Pioneer Investments, with Santander Asset Management.

According to news wire reports from Italy, UniCredit chief executive Federico Ghizzoni suggested the signing of a merger between Pioneer and Santander was only days away.

A UniCredit spokesperson confirmed the reports were correct.

A merger of the two business, which was first reported in September last year, would create a European asset manager with assets under management (AUM) of around €380bn.

As of December last year, Pioneer’s AUM exceeded €200bn.

Santander Asset Management is partly owned by Spanish bank’s Banco Santander, after the bank sold half of its stake to private equity firms Warburg Pincus and General Atlantic last year.

According to recent rumours, UniCredit was in talks to retain the US arm of Pioneer.

However, Ghizzoni said an agreement with Santander “would concern the whole of Pioneer”.

Milan-based UniCredit has been looking to shift Pioneer from its books for some time and saw the collapse of a sale to French asset manager Amundi during the euro-zone crisis.

According to earlier reports, the Italian bank had been evaluating bids for Pioneer before entering exclusive talks with Banco Santander for the potential merger.

Other bidders were reportedly from the private equity space, including Advent International and a group including CVC Capital Partners and Singapore sovereign fund GIC.

Under the new arrangement, UniCredit, Banco Santander and private equity owners Warburg Pincus and General Atlantic would each own one-third of the merged business.

The move by UniCredit and Banco Santander comes as European banks look to offload asset management businesses to shore up capital reserves in light of new EU regulation.

Earlier this month, it was reported that UBS Global Asset Management (GAM) hired Pioneer Investments’ Oliver Bilal to lead its EMEA business.

Bilal was distribution head for the Italian asset manager’s German operations.

He left Pioneer after four years and was the second high-profile departure so far this year.

Chief executive Sandro Pierri left Pioneer at the end of January, replaced by deputy Giordano Lombardo, after two and a half years in the role and 11 at the company.