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By Andrea Mandala
MILAN (Reuters) -Shares in Italy's Unipol Group fell 8% on Friday after the company, whose core business is insurance, set out plans to invest 500 million euros ($519 million) in technology and to build up its bancassurance business over the next three years.
Shares in separately-listed insurance group UnipolSai fell 3%, with traders saying UnipolSai's dividend target for the period to 2022-24 was lower than expected.
Carlo Cimbri, who chairs both Unipol and UnipolSai, said that some investors had also speculated that the group could streamline its structure by merging the two businesses but he ruled that out again on Friday.
"Such a shares reaction looks like a profit warning, but this is obviously not the case", Cimbri said.
"Perhaps I have not explained myself well when I meet investors.. I have said it on several occasions and for a long time that streamlining is not an issue on the agenda. I'm sorry for them," he added.
The holding company Unipol controls UnipolSai with a 85% stake.
UnipolSai, Italy's second biggest insurer behind Generali, set a target for cumulative overall net profit of 2.3 billion euros and will also pay out dividends totalling 1.4 billion euros over the 2022-2024 period.
The insurer had exceeded the targets set out in the previous three-year plan, which had guided for net profits of 2 billion euros and dividends totalling 1.3 billion euros.
UnipolSai sees a "growing insurance market over the 2022-2024 lifespan", despite a scenario characterised by a decelerating economy, rising inflation, highly volatile financial markets and interest rate rises.
Under its "Opening New Ways" plan, Unipol said it planned to cut 800 existing jobs over the period, while hiring 300 people for new roles. It employs around 12,000 at present of whom 8,000 work for the insurance business.
The company has played a role in banking consolidation as it looks to build a wide distribution network for its products.
The financial group is the top shareholder in BPER Banca with a nearly 20% stake and has been the driving force behind BPER's decision to acquire branches sold off as part of Intesa's 2020 acquisition of rival UBI, a move which has increased BPER's assets by 40%.
Unipol last year bought a 9.5% stake in Popolare di Sondrio, a regional bank seen as an attractive merger partner.
The two lenders have insurance partnerships in place with UnipolSai.
Cimbri said the group was happy with the size of its stake in Popolare di Sondrio and was not planning banking takeovers.
Under the new plan, parent company Unipol aims to reach cumulative net profits of 2.3 billion euros and to return up to 750 million euros in total dividends to its shareholders ($1 = 0.9620 euros)
(Reporting by Andrea Mandalàediting by Jane Merriman and Keith Weir)