A move into asset management helped to drive a 19% rise in operating profit for Standard Life in 2014, offsetting a hit to annuity sales from British pension reforms.

Best known as an insurer, Standard Life is moving more into asset management and away from its traditional business. 

It sold its Canadian operations last year for $3.7bn and also bought Ignis Asset Management for £390m.

Chief Executive David Nish told reporters on a conference call that the deals "transformed the group further towards being a long-term investment savings business".

Operating profit before tax from continuing operations rose to £604m, Standard Life said in a statement, ahead of a forecast of £559m.

It said it would pay a total dividend of 17.03 pence per share, again beating forecasts of 16.89 pence per share.

It was not all good news, however. Margins from annuity new business sales fell 66% last year and Standard Life expected contribution from annuity new business to drop in 2015 by between £10-£15m.

"In terms of our annuity sales, there has been a significant reduction, a direct result of the changes announced in the [British] budget," Nish said, adding that the strength of the company's results reflected the breadth of its business.

Pensions and insurance companies were forced back to the drawing board last year by surprise British reforms, to take effect in April, which mean retirees no longer need to use their pensions pots to buy an annuity, which gives an income for life.

The firm's joint ventures in China and India were performing well, Nish said, adding the firm wanted to increase its stake in its Indian life joint venture with HDFC, pending rule changes.

The changes will allow foreign investors to take a maximum 49% stake in insurance joint ventures, from the current 26%. However, Nish said it was "probably unlikely" the firm would increase its stake to the maximum 49%.  

Standard Life Ireland said it had a strong year of growth, with sales of €1.14bn during the year.

Assets under management grew by €1.1bn to €8bn in the year, while sales of lump sum investment products rose to more than €200m.