Banking and insurance group Fortis saw its gross inflow of life sales rise by 40% to €3.9bn in the first three months of this year, thanks mainly to strong sales in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Although the growth was seen in all regions in which it conducts business, the Netherlands is highlighted as generating a 39% increase in sales, in line with its strategy to focus on pensions activities, the company said in its first quarter report.

Of the company's net profit of €1.7bn - 12% down on the first quarter of 2006 - €271m was contributed by life insurance sales - a 22% rise.

Compared to the fourth quarter, when a large co-assurance group life contract of €710m was concluded in the Netherlands, life inflow has dropped 10%.

Fortis' assets under administration have risen by 26% to €97bn, while its assets under custody have gone up 14% to €326bn, ceo Jean-Paul Votron stated.

"Revenues have followed this pattern. Business has been run at a cost/income ratio of 60%-65%," he said.

Votron said Fortis was well on its way to achieving its long-term goal as the firm predicts a yearly average growth of 15% of net profit per share till 2011. Compared to the fourth quarter, net profits of the Dutch-Belgian company also rose by 56%.

Votron indicated the company still aims to generate 30% of its net profits from outside the Benelux by 2009, compared with approximately 25% at present, at the same time as announcing marketing campaigns are scheduled in Russia and Ukraine.

With a market capitalisation of €43.2bn, Fortis is among the 20 largest financial institutions in Europe. It is present in 50 countries, and its workforce totals 60,000.