Mr. Lee-Chin has recently seen a number of employees defect from Berkshire, a financial empire that includes and Jamaica's second-largest bank.

Some of the group's 800 financial advisers and $12-billion of assets under management have left to rivals such as and At the same time, AIC, home of the Advantage mutual funds, has seen clients leave because of the poor performance of its funds.

"I have set a mandate to ensure we aggressively enhance Berkshire, thereby ensuring a national and ultimately international leading position," Mr. Lee-Chin said in the memo.

The most likely partner is HSBC, the world's second-largest bank, said sources in the financial community. They said the timing of Mr. Lee-Chin's memo may have been designed to stem the employee exodus ahead of any sale.

AIC spokeswoman Terri Oswald said: "There is no comment on this story." A spokesman for HSBC Canada said the company doesn't comment on speculation.

An executive at a rival brokerage house said HSBC is expected to buy about 20 per cent of the adviser network, to boost its existing sales network and open the door to further acquisitions of Mr. Lee-Chin's companies.

Rivals estimate that privately owned Berkshire is worth about $60-million to $100-million, although one Bay Street investment banker who is familiar with Berkshire says Mr. Lee-Chin hopes to get a much higher price.

Other potential bidders may include , sources said. The bank has stated that it wants to expand its wealth management operations and would also be interested in Mr. Lee-Chin's stake in , the second-largest player in Jamaica after Scotiabank.

There are three companies under the Burlington, Ont.-based Berkshire umbrella: Berkshire Investment Group Inc., Berkshire Securities and Berkshire Insurance Services Inc. The three represent stockbrokers, financial planers who sell mutual funds, and insurance agents.

"Berkshire would be a difficult asset to sell, because its agents tend to be extremely independent, and wouldn't fit into a bank-owned environment," said one executive at a bank-owned investment dealer.

The financial planning industry has consolidated around its largest players in recent years, with Dundee Wealth Management Inc., CI Financial Inc. and IGM Financial Inc., the mutual fund arm of Power Financial, becoming market leaders by snapping up smaller rivals.

In the internal memo, Mr. Lee-Chin made no mention of AIC itself. The Bay Street investment banker says Mr. Lee-Chin probably would not want to sell AIC or merge it with a larger funds company until the business stabilizes.

AIC had $8-billion of assets at the end of June, down from a peak of $15.4-billion in 2002, according to the Investment Funds Institute of Canada.

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