Aviva  

New Aviva boss warns she may shrink company's reach

New Aviva boss warns she may shrink company's reach
 Amanda Blanc, Aviva's chief executive

Amanda Blanc has indicated Aviva will focus on UK, Irish and Canadian markets, where its businesses are big enough, after profits fell on the back of Covid-19.

Ms Blanc, who has been chief executive for one month, announced the provider would “focus its portfolio” and pull back from foreign markets, such as Asia and continental Europe.

Speaking as Aviva released its half year results, Ms Blanc said: "We are going to focus on those businesses where we have the necessary size, capability and brilliant customer service to generate superior shareholder returns. This is where we will invest and grow.

"Where we cannot meet our strategic objectives, we will take decisive action and we will withdraw capital."

This comes after Aviva's operating profit for the first half of 2020 was £1.2bn, down from £1.39bn a year earlier.

Covid-19 caused Aviva to experience increased insurance claims, reduced customer activity levels and lower asset values as well as increased money spent on ensuring the company could continue to operate during lockdown.

Despite this, its UK life business, which includes savings and retirement, saw operating profits grow 9 per cent to £817m with net flows increasing 28 per cent to £4.2bn.

While there was a lull in new business during April and May, activity has since started to return to normal levels.

Ms Blanc, who became chief executive in July after Maurice Tulloch stood down for family reasons, said Aviva had “responded well” to Covid-19 but said she was under no illusions the challenges it posed were over.

She said: “We are all still living with Covid-19 and a return to normality is likely to remain some way off. The recent global economic downturn is unprecedented and the fiscal response by governments around the world has been extraordinary.

“As protective measures are eased and government support withdrawn, economic headwinds and capital market volatility are likely to persist. As a result, any recovery in customer activity is likely to be gradual and we will continue to be prudent in managing our businesses and capital resources. 

“This means uncertainty in the outlook will persist in the near term and may mean that growth and profitability targets will be harder to deliver. However, as demonstrated in our first half results, Aviva is operationally and financially resilient. As we deliver on our priorities of focusing the portfolio, transforming performance and building on our financial strength, we will unlock value for shareholders.”

Assets under administration ended the first half at £113bn, unchanged over the year, with positive net flows offset by adverse market movement, Aviva said.

Meanwhile, Aviva Investors operating profit declined to £35m due to capital market weakness and de-risking of asset strategies.

Despite this, it generated net positive external client flows of £1.3bn, driven by significant new business wins in the UK and North America. 

The company’s future dividend policy is also up for review.

Back in April, Aviva withdrew its recommendation to pay the 2019 final dividend to shareholders — which was set to be paid in June — in the wake of the challenges presented by the virus.