Aviva cheers highest general insurance sales for a decade

Insurer Aviva has notched up a record performance for its savings and retirement business and its highest general insurance sales for a decade thanks to trends in the pandemic.

The group savings and retirement sales leapt 23% higher to £6.2 billion in the first quarter, with net inflows of cash up 31%, as the coronavirus crisis saw people save more in their workplace pensions, with little else to spend their money on.

It also posted a 4% rise in core general insurance gross written premiums to £4 billion in the three months to the end of March, with commercial business surging 11%.

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Insurers are being boosted by fewer motor claims as drivers have been on the road less due to lockdown restrictions and working from home, though the pandemic has hit car cover premium rates.

The group has also seen sales given a fillip by launching a raft of Aviva-branded motor and home products on price comparison websites, helping it grow market share “in a difficult market with weaker rates”.

Aviva said its combined operating ratio – a measure of underwriting profitability – improved significantly, with a fall to 90.6% from 118.7% a year earlier.

Shares rose 3% after Aviva’s first-quarter figures.

Amanda Blanc – who is leading a revamp of Aviva since joining as chief executive last July – said the group made good progress in the first quarter, but stressed there was “much more to do”.

She said: “Our positive trading performance in the first quarter of 2021 reinforces our confidence in the targets we announced earlier in the year.

“Nevertheless, we remain sharply focused on further improving performance, recognising we still have much more to do, to deliver stronger returns for our shareholders.”

Ms Blanc is slimming Aviva down to focus on its core markets of the UK, Ireland and Canada, and has sold eight overseas businesses that will raise £7.5 billion.

The sale of its Polish division in March marked the final stage in the huge sell-off programme, coming after it sold businesses in markets including France, Turkey, Italy, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “After years of talk and very little progress, Amanda Blanc seems to be finally delivering the slimming the group so badly needed.

“Eight disposals, worth £7.5 billion in total, means the group is now more focused on its core markets of the UK and Canada.

“That should fund a hefty return to shareholders; exactly how and of what size remains to be seen.”