INSURER Standard Life kicked off the sector's reporting season with forecast-beating sales for 2009 following a pick-up in market conditions in the second half of the year.
The UK's fifth biggest insurer by market value reported total life and pensions sales of £14.7bn on a present value of new business premiums basis – down by a better than expected 7 per cent.
This was helped by a rebound in sales in the fourth quarter which enjoyed a 29 per cent surge in new business to £4.16bn.
However, its core UK operations from which the FTSE 100 derives much of its premiums, were struggling slightly with life and pensions sales down 10 per cent to £10.1bn.
In contrast, UK net inflows increased 43 per cent to £1.2bn, up on the £800 million recorded in 2008 with a significant pick-up in the fourth quarter.
Its wrap business performed particularly strongly with assets under administration more than doubling to £3.6bn while SIPP assets under administration rising by more than a third to £11.8bn.
However, full year sales of its most popular SIPP product fell 21 per cent in the UK to £2.9bn. Investment bonds also suffered amid poor market conditions.
The weaker performances from the UK and Europe offset stronger results in Asia and Canada.
Despite ongoing uncertainty in the financial markets, Standard Life says it is "entering 2010 with good momentum in many of our businesses."
Chief executive David Nish, who took over from the long-serving Sandy Crombie at the start of the year, said: "Our priority now is to execute our growth strategy in order to accelerate the performance of Standard Life as a long term savings and investments business."
"In addition, we will increase our focus on building valuable relationships with our customers through our brand, service and product propositions."
The group's surplus capital stood at the same level as at the end of 2008 at £3.5bn.