Aviva Turnaround Ahead of Schedule as New Business Climbs

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Aviva Plc, Britain's biggest property insurer. Photographer: Lloyd Sturdy via Bloomberg

Mark Wilson’s turnaround of Aviva Plc is ahead of plan thanks to the acquisition of Friends Life Group Ltd., as the U.K. insurer posted a 14 percent rise in the value of new business for the first quarter.

Aviva, which completed the $8.6 billion takeover of its competitor in April, increased the value of new business, an indication of future profit, to 247 million pounds ($376 million), the statement showed Thursday. Aviva Investors received a 20 billion-pound boost as some Friends Life assets began to be transferred.

“We are on track and ahead of schedule and have improved results over the last nine quarters,” Wilson, Aviva chief executive officer said on a call with reporters. The “acquisition was well advanced before closure of the deal so we were quick out of the box. Integration will be complex and will take some years.”

Wilson, who became CEO of U.K.’s second-biggest insurer in 2013, agreed to buy Friends Life in December to boost cash levels and reduce debt, accelerating his turnaround plan and adding 55 pence a share to its net asset value. Some 1,500 job losses are planned to help cut costs by 225 million pounds annually.

The CEO signaled that greater cost cuts could be made, saying the estimates were not “overly ambitious.” and that he would be “disappointed” if targets weren’t at least met.

Shares Rise

Aviva climbed 2.6 percent to 527 pence in London, extending gains this year to 8.8 percent.

The insurer’s U.K. life business increased the value of new business 15 percent to 103 million pounds, as sales of equity release products offset a slump in annuities following government changes to pensions.

Friends Life, which is closing its London headquarters, saw the value of its new business slump 38 percent to 20 million pounds on lower annuity sales. Its corporate pension business reported 200 million pounds of net inflows, boosting corporate-benefits funds to 23.6 billion pounds.

Aviva Investors reported gross sales of 1.6 billion pounds in the first quarter, but Wilson said that the level of client redemptions needs to fall. Assets under management were 246 billion pounds as of March 31. A further 50 billion pounds of Friends Life assets are managed by Schroders Plc and Axa SA could be transferred, the company said.

About 35 billion pounds in assets managed by Axa “will come over in the short term,” Wilson said.

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