Aviva Ireland has said its total operating profit for the year to the end of December rose by 13% at €93m.

The company's general insurance business saw its net written premium increase by 8% to €498m for the year. 

Its combined operating ratio - a key measure of profitability in general insurance - improved by one percentage point to 91.4%. 

Operating profit at its general insurance business rose by 10% to €55m, on the back of growth in net written premium, innovations in claims handling and continued success in combatting fraud.

Meanwhile, operating profits at its life insurance business grew by 19% to €38m and the company said the value of its new business premiums increased by 38% to €1.197 billion. 

Aviva said it saw significant growth in sales of individual pensions and bulk purchase annuities.

The company agreed a deal to buy Friends First, subject to regulatory approval, in November and said the deal is in line with the company's strategy to grow in markets where we can win. 

"It is also a strong statement of support for our ambition to grow our life business and to become the leading composite insurer in the Irish market," Aviva said. 

If approved, the deal will increase Aviva's customer base by about 250,000 and will broaden its range of products.

"Today's results confirm Aviva's leadership position in the general insurance market. Our acquisition of Friends First will enable us to become the leading insurer for brokers and the largest composite insurer in the market," commented John Quinlan, Aviva Ireland's chief executive.

Earlier, Aviva's parent company said it would give £500m back to shareholders as it posted a 2% rise in 2017 operating profit to £3.1 billion, helped by strong performance in its UK division. 

European insurers such as Allianz and Munich Re have been offering share buybacks as they struggle to find other ways to deploy capital. 

Aviva, which provides general and life insurance, also said in a statement it planned to spend around £600m on "bolt-on" acquisitions, and £900m on debt reduction. 

"We continue to invest in our businesses and in particular on priorities such as digital," the company's chief executive Mark Wilson said. 

Aviva's operating profit was slightly above a forecast £3 billion, according to a company-supplied consensus poll. 

Most divisions showed strong operating profit growth, Aviva said, but profits in Canada shrank, hurt by a rise in bodily injury claims and large commercial insurance and weather-related losses. 

Assets under management at Aviva Investors, the insurer's fund arm, rose 9% to £490 billion. 

Aviva said it would pay a total dividend of 27.4 pence, up 18% and above a forecast 26.4 pence.