Standard Life's UK life and pension sales started "quite well" this year, but Europe's largest mutual assurer repeated that it would not chase volume as it seeks to woo potential investors.
"It is important for our members that we demonstrate the level of profitability of the business. Profit for us is more important than market share," chief executive Sandy Crombie said.
Standard Life bucked the trend for rising sales in its key home market last year amid consumer concern over its financial position and as the Edinburgh- based society repositioned itself for a stockmarket listing next year.
The group said it had capital resources of £5.5 billion at the end of 2004, more than twice the minimum capital requirement.
Standard Life shocked rivals and customers last year when it announced it was abandoning its previously cherished mutual status as tough new funding rules and declining demand mean it had to turn from policyholders to the stock market for cash.
The group's life and pension sales in Britain fell to £939 million for the 131/2 month period to the end of 2004, against £957 million in the 12 months to November 15
Mr Crombie said there were signs that the society's sales could do significantly better in 2005 partly due to new pension products but he said he would not be perturbed if they did not beat last year's level, as the focus was on profitable growth.
He did not expect Standard Life's market share to fall significantly from its current level of 8.6 per cent, which is down from 10.8 per cent in 2003.
The mutual has reduced commissions to distributors,
slashed policy payouts and moved out of some lowermargin personal pension and group pension business to cut costs and improve its profitability for prospective investors. It has also cut more than 2,000 jobs.
Standard Life's repositioning has benefited its rivals and comes amid major changes in the UK life sector.
The group will not release profit figures until it publishes its flotation prospectus next year. Mr Crombie said the group was still searching for a new finance director to take over from John Hylands, who is leading the project to demutualise.
An executive search normally takes around three months but Standard Life has been looking for nearly a year. Mr Crombie said he would ideally have someone in place by the summer but said he would not be rushed into choosing the wrong candidate.
Standard Life is said to be having trouble finding someone because candidates are wary the society could be taken over before flotation.
About 2.6 million policyholders could collect estimated windfalls of between £1,000 and £3,000 if the move is backed at a vote, planned for next year. Third-party funds at Standard Life's highly regarded investment arm rose to £18.3 billion at the end of 2004 from £15.3 billion at November 15 2003. The fund manager said prospects for 2005 looked bright.
Standard Life said its medical insurance division reported a pretax loss of £6.1 million in 2004 compared with an undisclosed profit in 2003 due to higher claims. Standard Life Bank, the mortgage and savings account arm of the group, reported pre-tax profit of £9.1 million, compared to £4.6 million in
2003. The group has changed its year end to December 31 from November 15 to bring it into line with its listed peers.