* UK profit 35 mln eur vs 24.7 mln expected
* Combined ratio 97.9 percent (Adds detail, background)
BRUSSELS, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Belgium-based insurer Ageas earned more than expected in the third quarter, helped by its operations in Britain, where it is building up its car and house insurance business.
Ageas is traditionally a life assurance specialist, and the result backs up its policy announced in September to pivot its operations towards non-life insurance, which includes policies for cars and houses.
The company, which became Britain’s fifth-largest non-life insurer after it bought Groupama’s British non-life business in September and is also Belgium’s biggest insurance company, said on Wednesday third-quarter profit from its insurance operations was 147.1 million euros ($188.31 million).
That beat 141 million euros expected on average by six banks and brokerages polled by Reuters.
In Britain its insurance profit was 35 million euros, above 24.7 million euros expected in the poll, where strong growth in car insurance offset lower premiums in house and travel policies.
It said its overall combined ratio - a key profitability measure in insurance where costs plus claims are expressed as a percentage of revenues - fell to 97.9 percent from 100.2 in the same period last year.
A result below 100 means an insurance company is making an underwriting profit.
“The combined ratio of 97.9 percent reflects the pro-active measures we have taken in the past,” said Chief Executive Bart De Smet in a statement.
Ageas plans to keep its combined ratio structurally below 100 percent from now on.
By 2015 the life assurance specialist is planning to raise the proportion of its portfolio in non-life insurance to 40 percent to mitigate the effect of low interest rates and regulatory changes.
Its profit in the first nine months of 2012 was split 65 percent for life and 32 percent for non-life. (Reporting by Ben Deighton; Editing by Louise Heavens)