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Friends is the star with big rises in sales and profits

Friends Provident is proving to be one of the shining lights in the recent wave of life company results, with its new business over the £400m mark for the first time.

Its preliminary results for 2003 show new life and pensions business up by 14 per cent to £429m from £377m in 2002. Profits leapt to £282m from a loss of £738m in the previous year.

Friends&#39 distribution agreement with estate agency Countrywide, made in 2002, is expected to keep contributing significantly to overall new business.

Managing director Ben Gunn says Friends was one of the fastest-growing UK insurers last year and welcomes the new realistic reporting regime, with its results showing a risk capital margin of five times that required. Its free-asset ratio is up to 10.1 per cent from 8.4 per cent in 2002.

Group chief executive Keith Satchell says: “These strong results highlight the progress of our two core businesses, which are growing at a faster pace in their respective markets despite tough conditions.

“The contribution to profits from our life and pensions new business has increased nearly 50 per cent over the past two years, to £80m in 2003 from£54m in 2001.”

Hargreaves Lansdown head of pension research Tom McPhail says: “In the present climate this is not bad. Friends have defied my expectations over the last few years. I thought that they were too small to survive on their own and they have proven me wrong.”

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