"Simpler, stronger" Aviva is producing better returns for shareholders, group boss says
PUBLISHED: 08:44 08 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:44 08 March 2018
Becoming a "simpler, stronger" group will allow Aviva to give more back to its shareholders this year, according to new figures.
The Norwich-based insurer’s annual results show total dividends per share rose by 18% in 2017 to 27.4p – above analysts’ predictions and marking their fourth consecutive year of double digit growth.
Operating profit was up 2% to £3.06bn and profit after tax doubled to £1.64bn, while operating earnings per share – derived from group operating profit – increased by 7% to 54.8p.
Group chief executive Mark Wilson said the group’s “accelerated” growth had been “broad-based”, with the value of new business up 25%, general insurance premiums up 11% to £9.14m and revenue in its fund management arm up 14% to £557m.
Following a programme of divestment – which most recently saw Aviva exist the Spanish market – the businesses and markets left in its portfolio are now “the strongest”, Mr Wilson said – with six of its eight major markets delivered double digit profit growth in 2017.
“We only have businesses left that we want and we know can grow. They are growing sales and market share, and our focus is growing profits and cash across the group,” he said.
“Our multi-product strategy is proving its worth. The large companies bought more second products from us than we have seen before. Our wide range of products allows us to cross-sell and this was the first year when we saw tangible evidence of that.”
He added: “We have been growing faster than most would have expected a few years ago. For me this is where the fun stuff starts.”
The group plans to deploy £2bn from its growing cash reserves in 2018 and a further £1bn in 2019 – £900m will go towards reducing debt, £600m has been put aside for bolt-on acquisitions and more than £500m will go in capital returns to shareholders.
Mr Wilson said paying off the “expensive” debt could add another £60m in annualised profit.
The group met its 2017 target to deliver a dividend pay out ration of 50%, with Mr Wilson saying it aims to increase this to up to 60% in 2018.
“This is good news for our 580,000 retail shareholders as well as our corporate shareholders,” he said.
There was bad news for Aviva’s Canadian business in 2017, which took a substantial hit from bad weather and increased automotive insurance claims, pushing profits down by 83%.
Mr Wilson said: “We have a plan to turn Canada around and we will expect a bounce-back in the next couple of years.
“Because of our diversity of markets and products, we can overcome setbacks if one market or one product does not perform.”
Mr Wilson said the group’s investment in digital platforms, including My Aviva, was helping its businesses to compete in their respective markets, with the outlay for new technologies being offset by the new business they had helped to bring in.
Aviva is a member of the EDP/EADT Top100 companies by turnover in Norfolk and Suffolk,