INSURER Aviva has posted an increase in full-year profit and pledged to spend more than £1bn on takeovers and shareholder returns.

The York-based group today (Thursday, March 8) reported a two per cent rise in operating profit to £3bn for 2017, driven by a strong UK performance.

The company’s British insurance arm saw profit increase 13 per cent to £2.2bn.

Boss Mark Wilson said: “Our largest market, the UK, has gone from strength-to-strength, growing sales, market share and profit.

“The UK is a dependable and growing business."

He also said the group will deploy £2bn of excess cash this year, including £900m in debt reduction, "in excess" of £500m of capital returns to shareholders and about £600m for bolt-on acquisitions.

Mr Wilson has been eyeing acquisitions in artificial intelligence and big data as he attempts to transform Aviva, which runs general insurance and life insurance operations out of York, into a financial technology firm.

Aviva is also working with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on developing ways to offer better financial guidance and support to consumers.

Mr Wilson added: "We continue to invest in our businesses and priorities such as digital to make our products and services easier for our customers.

“Aviva is now a simpler, stronger group and we are growing.

“Our strategy is paying dividends.”

Mr Wilson has also been pushing through a radical shake-up of the group, exiting fringe businesses to focus on its core operations.

To this end, Aviva offloaded its Spanish operations for £178m earlier this year.