Aviva new business growth driven by UK and Asia

LONDON Thu May 16, 2013 2:36am EDT

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LONDON May 16 (Reuters) - British insurer Aviva Plc said the value of new business rose by nearly a fifth in its fiscal first quarter, with increased demand in Asia and its home British market helping to offset weakness in Spain and Italy.

Aviva said the value of new business - a key measure of growth - grew 18 percent to 191 million pounds ($291 million) in the first three months of 2013.

In his first performance update since taking the reins at the start of this year, Chief Executive Mark Wilson said that the firm was on track to deliver a 400 million pounds cost savings target.

"Today's results demonstrate the first steps towards delivery. I am conscious of the challenges and do not want to set expectations at an unrealistic level. Progress so far has been satisfactory and there is a great deal more we need to do for our shareholders," he said in a statement on Thursday.

Aviva's strongest performances came from the UK life arm, where new business increased 33 percent, while in Asia, growth came in at 29 percent. Performance in weaker southern European markets was described as "disappointing".

"There is clear scope for improvement in Spain and Italy," Aviva said.

New Zealand born Wilson, former boss of Asian rival AIA Group Ltd joined after spiralling costs and poor share price performance triggered an investor revolt in 2012 that forced out former CEO Andrew Moss.

Chairman John McFarlane subsequently drew up a review promising savings from the sale or closure of more than a dozen underperforming units across its insurance and asset management operations.

Operating expenses at the firm were 10 percent lower at 769 million pounds with restructuring costs amounting to 54 million pounds, Aviva said.

The firm said in May it is to cut 2,000 jobs, or around 6 percent of the global workforce over the next six months.

The trading statement comes days after shareholders backed its new management team, one year after the rebellion against pay plans that led to the departure of its chief executive.

Management agreed in this year's round to freeze salaries at last year's levels and shied away from awarding bonuses for 2012 to directors.

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