Julius Baer has emerged as the frontrunner to acquire Dutch ING's Swiss private banking assets, two people familiar with the matter said, and a deal could be announced as early as next week.

The Dutch financial group has sat on most bids for its Swiss and Asian private banking units for a month, but the European process has gathered pace in the last week, with Baer nearing the end of the its due diligence.

Things are moving forward, we are optimistic a deal can be done soon. It could be a matter of days, one of the people said on Friday.

HSBC is favorite to buy ING's Asian business, which is not expected to be sold until later this month, due to regulatory issues.

Baer was also a contender for the Asian assets, but pulled out, sources told Reuters last month.

Asia is not a done deal, the second person said.

Julius Baer, ING and HSBC declined to comment.

The sale of ING's private banking assets is the most prominent transaction to date in the consolidation wave that is shaking up the wealth management industry after the credit crisis hurt the business.

The disposals are part of ING's drive to sell 6 billion euros to 8 billion euros ($8.72 - $11.63 billion) in assets, and exit 10 of the 48 countries where it does business.

ING got up to five bids for some or all of its private banking assets, with an offer close to $2 billion, sources familiar with the bidding process told Reuters earlier this month.

(Additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

($1=.6879 Euro)