Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA has hired Nomura to advise it on a bid for the 318 U.K. branches that Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC has put up for sale, sources said Wednesday.

The move means that the bank is likely to meet head to head with rival Banco Santander SA on an expansion push in the U.K.

A bid by BBVA, Spain's No. 2 lender by assets, would mark a shift in strategy for a bank that in recent years has focused on expanding in the U.S. and Asia. It is already a big player in Latin America. The bank has three branches in London, according to its Web site. BBVA declined to comment.

A successful bid by Santander, however, would build on its already significant U.K. branch network. The bank has recently rebranded its U.K. assets, and by yearend it will have 1,300 Santander-branded branches around the country.

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