UK insurer Aviva said it had recorded steady sales performance in its life insurance business and a 4% rise in general insurance as it repeated its promise to give cash back to shareholders.

Aviva has sold eight businesses totalling £7.5 billion in the past year to focus on key markets of Britain, Ireland and Canada.

It said today that it would make a "substantial" return of capital to shareholders once the deals have completed.

But investors will likely have to wait until 2022 for their pay-outs, as its chief financial officer Jason Windsor said the €3.2 billion sale of its France operations is expected to complete in the fourth quarter.

Aviva had no specific acquisition plans for the excess cash but "we'll screen acquisitions as they come along", Windsor told Reuters.

Life insurance premiums were steady at £8.3 billion supported by record quarterly net flows in its savings and retirement business.

General insurance net written premiums rose 4% to £2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, Aviva said in a statement.

Combined operating ratio, a measure of underwriting profitability in general insurance in which a level below 100% indicates a profit, strengthened to 90.6% compared with 118.7% a year earlier, helped by relatively benign weather, Windsor said.

JPMorgan analysts described the company's first-quarter update as "strong".