Robust sales numbers from Aviva, Britain's biggest insurance company, confirmed yesterday that structured savings have recovered strongly this year, as already indicated by healthy figures from Prudential and Legal & General.

Aviva's UK new business sales in the first three months of 2005 were 34 per cent ahead of those a year earlier at £3.2 billion, measured by the present value of new premiums.

Within that, investment sales more than doubled to £444 million.

But nearly 60 per cent of Aviva's long-term savings sales are nowadays overseas. Here the total of £4.7 billion represented a 21 per cent improvement - although margins averaging 3.7 per cent compared with 3.1 per cent in the UK.

In yesterday's weak stock market, the shares slipped 11p to 801p.

Across the Aviva group, worldwide long-term savings sales were 26 per cent ahead at £7.92 billion, including investment sales of £1.13 billion, a 72 per cent gain.

"Aviva has accelerated sales growth across its worldwide long-term savings businesses and profits are growing in line with sales," said Richard Harvey, chief executive.

"Geographical diversity is one of our great strengths and in the first quarter almost 60 per cent of long-term savings new business comes from Aviva International.

"In the UK, our sales momentum is highly encouraging and new business profit is increasing strongly."

In the UK, life and pensions sales climbed 27 per cent to £2.76 billion, as a rising stock market attracted money into investment bonds while individual pension sales benefited from transfers before Chancellor Gordon Brown's new tax regime for pensions took effect on April 6.

Against that, annuity sales dropped 16 per cent as customers delayed purchases until after that date.

Patrick Snowball, the director in charge of Aviva UK, said he expects sales levels to revert to normal now.

He confirmed that Aviva is still looking for potential growth in the market for corporate annuities - taking on responsibility to entire company pension schemes.

Until very recently only Prudential and Legal & General have been prepared to bid for these.