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, the U.S.' largest health insurer, and Dutch financial services company

ING Group

(ING) - Get ING Groep NV Report

finally walked down the aisle Thursday following a nearly four-month courtship.

In an early morning announcement before markets opened in Europe, ING said it was buying Aetna's financial services and international businesses in a deal valued at $7.7 billion. That figure includes $5 billion in cash and the assumption of $2.7 billion in Aetna debt.

The deal would make ING the top U.S. insurer when measured by life and annuity premiums, ING said. It would increase ING's client base from over 30 million to 50 million clients worldwide, cement ING as the No. 1 international insurance company in Latin America and give it the largest broker/dealer network in the U.S.

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In a statement, Ewald Kist, ING chairman, said the deal completes ING's goal of vaulting to the top 10 in the U.S. life insurance market.

ING said the deal will mainly be financed internally and is expected to close in December.

The deal marks the culmination of months of talks between the pair, including a pitch in March by ING and

WellPoint Health Networks


for the entire company. Later, the companies

confirmed they were in talks that centered around selling only Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna's financial services and international businesses.

The rumored price tag at the time was upwards of $9 billion, a figure most analysts felt was too high.

Aetna, which will now be solely a health insurance company, closed Thursday regular trading up 1/16, or 0.1%, at 58 15/16, while ING's American Depositary Receipts finished flat at 65 1/8.