Is the Pru being Prudent?
Companies that expand by acquisition are what they eat.
And sometimes a company buys something so big that it changes them almost beyond recognition.
Vodafone was transformed from ambitious British upstart into the world's biggest mobile operator with its purchase of Mannesmann a decade ago.
BP was promoted to the premier league of oil companies with its acquisition of Amoco.
And, if anything, the Prudential is attempting an even more radical reconstruction of what it is, with its takeover of AIA, the Asian arm of the battered, US insurance giant, AIG.
The £20bn plus transaction would more than double the size of the Pru and would make it the biggest life insurer in Asia.
The sale has been approved by the US government, which rescued AIG in the autumn of 2008, and by AIG's board: there's likely to be formal confirmation later today.
In the meantime, the Pru has requested that trading in its shares should be suspended. Which, I think, is almost without precedent for a business of the Pru's size and importance.
But the Pru takes the view that it's very hard for investors to value its shares, prior to disclosure of precisely what it is buying and how.
The price for AIA will be around $35bn or well over £20bn.
It will be financed by a rights issue of around that magnitude, which would probably be the biggest ever rights issue of new shares by a British company - and possibly one of the biggest ever rights issues by any company anywhere.
In the UK, only the emergency rescue rights issues of Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds have come anywhere close in respect of amount of money raised.
What's the point?
Well it would turn the venerable old Pru - a company whose history is woven into the thread of Britain's financial and industrial past - into the market leader in life insurance in Asia.
It is already number two in Asia. And the takeover of AIA would make it the clear number one, with more than 40,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of tied agents.
The Pru believes it would become the HSBC of the life insurance world - viz a company with headquarters in old-economy London, but with the bulk of assets and its prospects in new-economy China, India, South Korea, Singapore and so on.
And the point about being in that region is not just that it is growing fast. It is also that the inhabitants save vastly more than we do here in the UK, even though their living standards on the whole remain much lower than ours.
That said, there are always risks - very substantial risks - in swallowing something bigger than oneself (don't think about that too long, or you'll feel queasy).
The Pru's powers of corporate digestion - and its management - will be seriously tested.
UPDATE, 08:57: I suppose anyone looking for a silver lining for UK companies in the credit crunch that wreaked so much havoc in the City would note that Barclays and now the Pru have taken advantage of others misfortunes to pursue empire-building ambitions.
The resonant and important question - as is always the case with big takeovers - is whether those imperial ambitions are for the benefit of shareholders, the owners, or of managers, the directors.
UPDATE, 11:18: Now that the details have been published, it's quite difficult to argue that the Pru is buying AIA at a fire sale price.
At a purchase price of $35.5bn, the Pru is paying 1.69 times "embedded value" (the conventional measure of life insurers' assets) and 25 times last year's operating profits after tax of $1.4bn.
That profit figure sounds very much like "profit with inconvenient bad bits taken out" - but we'll have to wait for more detailed audited figures to assess that.
And at 25 times, the Pru would initially be making a 4% return on shareholders' money - which isn't fabulous even in the low interest rate world.
But apparently this is what decent Asian insurers cost. And, as I've said, the Pru believes this is a once-in-a-generation (or longer) opportunity.
The Pru's owners, it shareholders, have a good few weeks to evaluate whether they agree, before deciding whether to stump up their share £13bn share of the purchase price in the jumbo rights issue.
That said, the Pru knows it has the money - because the rights issue has been underwritten (which means that other financial institutions will provide the necessary cash, if the Pru's shareholders balk).
The Pru will finance the rest of the deal by borrowing more than £3bn and issuing almost £7bn of new stock to AIG.
That will give AIG a stake in the Pru of almost 11%.
As and when AIG recovers, it'll be interesting to see whether that 11% is a symbol of a fruitful partnership or a Trojan horse.