Abbey National is said to be looking for a European partner after concluding there are no more domestic mergers to be found.
The second largest mortgage lender is said to believe any further mergers would fall foul of competition watchdogs.
The bank wants to sign a deal with a non-banking partner which will give it a foothold on the continent.
Abbey chief executive Ian Harley says he is focusing his search on Italy, because of the rapid increase of demand for investment products there.
He says: “The real conundrum facing all of us is how do you do a cross-border deal and convince the shareholders it is good value?”