HSBC Holdings has emerged as a potential 'white knight' bidder for Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) UK as the government and regulators seek to avert the lender's insolvency.
Sky News has learnt that HSBC was on Sunday night exploring a bid for the British arm of the stricken technology-focused lender, joining a slew of smaller rivals in the emergency sale process triggered by the collapse into government ownership of its American parent.
One insider said a deal remained uncertain and a decision by the Bank of England to place SVB UK into insolvency proceedings could still take place in the coming hours.
JP Morgan, the American banking behemoth, has also been asked to examine a bid.
HSBC is thought to be the likelier of the two global lenders to pursue a transaction, although it declined to comment and it remained possible that it would walk away from the process.
The expedited nature of the sale raised doubts among some observers that HSBC would be able to move sufficiently quickly to acquire SVB UK before the business is placed into insolvency.
Any deal would not be material to HSBC in the context of its global balance sheet, but would sharpen its exposure in its home market of the UK to corporate clients in the tech and biotech sectors.
HSBC and JP Morgan were among the large international banks, also including Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group, which were asked to consider participating in the pre-insolvency sale process.
Lloyds was also said to be deliberating on Sunday night about whether to submit an offer.
Earlier on Sunday, both Oaknorth Bank, a business lender founded by a prominent former Conservative Party donor, and The Bank of London, a new clearing bank, submitted formal bids to buy SVB UK.
Interest from ADQ, an Abu Dhabi state-backed investment vehicle, is thought to have cooled.
The government and banking regulators are racing to find a solution to the crisis before markets open on Monday morning, with Rothschild, the investment bank, asked to handle the quickfire process by SVB UK with the consent of the Bank of England.
The Treasury said in a statement on Sunday that the government was working on funding solutions to help hundreds of SVB UK clients meet cashflow obligations.
"The UK has a world-leading tech sector, with a dynamic start-up and scale-up ecosystem," it said.
"The government recognises that, given the importance of Silicon Valley Bank to its customers, its failure could have a significant impact on the liquidity of the tech ecosystem.
"The government is treating this issue as a high priority, with discussions between the Governor of the Bank of England, the prime minister and the chancellor taking place over the weekend.
"The government is working at pace on a solution to avoid or minimise damage to some of our most promising companies in the UK and we will bring forward immediate plans to ensure the short-term operational and cashflow needs of Silicon Valley Bank UK customers are able to be met."
The implosion of SVB's US-listed parent company, which has been taken into government control, represents one of the biggest global banking collapses since the financial crisis of 2008.
UK depositors stand to receive up to £85,000 as part of the resolution of the British arm of SVB, sparking fears about the fate of substantial amounts of funding in the start-up community.
"We are working at pace on a solution. We will bring forward very soon plans to make sure people are able to meet their cashflow requirements, pay their staff," Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
"But obviously what we want to do is to find a longer-term solution that minimises or even avoids completely losses to some of our most promising companies."
On Saturday, dozens of early-stage companies wrote to Mr Hunt to warn of "an existential threat to the UK tech sector".
In a letter seen by Sky News, founders including those from Adzuna, Curve and Thriva called on Mr Hunt to intervene.
"The majority of the most exciting and dynamic tech businesses bank with SVB and have no or limited diversity in where their deposits are held," the draft letter said.
"This weekend the majority of us as tech founders are running numbers to see if we are potentially technically insolvent.
"The impact of this is far greater than our individual businesses.
"The Bank of England's assessment that SVB going into administration would have limited impact on the UK economy displays a dangerous lack of understanding of the sector and the role it plays in the wider economy, both today and in the future."
The founders warned Mr Hunt, who will deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday, that the collapse of SVB UK would "cripple the sector and set the ecosystem back 20 years".
"Many businesses will be sent into involuntary liquidation overnight," they wrote.
"Many other businesses, both in the tech sector and the wider economy - the customers and suppliers of these businesses - will be negatively impacted by these businesses going bankrupt."
Interpath Advisory has been lined up to handle the insolvency process in the UK if a buyer cannot be found.