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The CaixaBank headquarters stands in Barcelona on Sept. 17, 2020.

ALBERT GEA/Reuters

Two of Spain’s biggest banks are poised to merge and create the largest lender in the country, with assets of more than 600 billion euros ($708 billion), bringing the prospect of more job losses amid difficult times for the financial sector.

The boards of CaixaBank and Bankia were due to meet Thursday to iron out the final details of a deal, an official at CaixaBank said. The person spoke only on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are confidential.

The announcement of an agreement, which has been in the works for weeks, could be made in coming days to the Madrid stock exchange, the person said.

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A tie-up between CaixaBank, the largest bank in the domestic market, and Bankia, Spain’s biggest mortgage lender, could herald other moves toward consolidation in the financial sector.

Banks in Europe are having a hard time amid low interest rates, which squeeze their profits on loans, a steep economic downturn and uncertainty about the future due to the coronavirus pandemic and the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

The Spanish government has welcomed the possible merger, saying the sector needs to consolidate, even though it is expected to bring job losses among the combined staff of more than 50,000. Both banks are also placing emphasis on developing online banking, reducing the need for bank branches.

CaixaBank S.A. is one of Spain’s big three banks, along with Santander and BBVA. It has more than 35,700 staff and almost 4,600 offices.

With some 15.6 million customers, Caixabank has more than 44 per cent of the business market involving companies invoicing up to 100 million euros ($118 million) a year. It reported a profit of 1.7 billion euros ($2 billion) last year.

Bankia S.A. was created in 2010 by the merger of seven regional Spanish savings banks as a way of surviving the then financial crisis. It is Spain’s fourth-largest bank by assets.

Following a 2012 government bailout, 61.8 per cent of Bankia’s shares are held by the state, with the rest traded on the stock market. It has around 15,600 staff and last year posted a profit of 541 million euros ($638.5 million).

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Santander and BBVA have bigger international operations than CaixaBank.

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