Pioneer Group Inc. of Boston has agreed to sell a 30% stake in its Polish pension fund company to the international arm of Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance Enterprise.

Nationwide would contribute $20 million to the venture, increasing capitalization for Pioneer Pension Fund Co. to $30 million.

The deal, subject to Polish approval, would give Nationwide a toehold in the country's retirement market, which is being overhauled. It would also enhance the company's presence in Europe, said a spokeswoman for Nationwide Global Holdings Inc., the international arm of the Columbus insurer.

Poland is "one of the most active financial services growth markets in Europe," the spokeswoman said. "It fits well with our long-term objective to establish Nationwide as a leading global financial services organization."

For Pioneer the deal means more capital for the venture and could make the fund more attractive to Polish investors. Poles tend to view pension funds as insurance products, even though they are not, a Pioneer spokeswoman said.

Poland's newly privatized pension system requires employees under age 30 to contribute 9% of their salary to companies licensed to manage pension assets. They have until September to choose a provider, or one will be chosen for them. Employees between 30 and 50 have until December to decide whether to join the system.

Pioneer's pension fund was one of the first to be licensed by the Polish government and is competing with several funds managed by Polish banks and insurance companies, among other companies, for about six million clients, Pioneer estimates.

Nationwide began talking to Pioneer after executives of both companies met last fall at a trade mission to Poland sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Nationwide spokeswoman said. Nationwide will provide management assistance, sales training, and support for the pension fund's operations.

Neither Pioneer nor Nationwide would confirm whether Nationwide's insurance products will be included in the Pioneer fund's portfolio.

However, the Nationwide spokeswoman said that "as Poland and other countries shift from public to private pension systems, Nationwide intends to be a major player."

Nationwide has been in Europe since January, when it bought PanEuroLife, a large life insurance company in Luxembourg.

The Pioneer deal is subject to approval by two Polish agencies, the Pension Fund Supervisory Office and the Competition and Consumer Protection Agency. Approval is expected within two months, the Pioneer spokeswoman said.

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