NORWAY – Norwegian insurer Storebrand says it saw strong sales of defined benefit pension schemes to the corporate market in the first quarter of 2003.

“Storebrand generated strong sales to the corporate market in the first quarter, both for defined benefit pension schemes and group life insurance,” the company said.

It said Norwegian retailer Coop has appointed Storebrand as its pension provider – Coop’s premium reserves will be transferred to Storebrand over the course of the year. “This will make a significant contribution to Storebrand’s transfer balance in 2003.”

It was “closely following” the growing markets for pensions life insurance, health insurance and long-term savings products.

“Storebrand’s strong position in group pensions provides the foundation for long-term growth in the occupational pensions market.”

Storebrand, which is Norway’s biggest insurer, said it would continue to focus on cost control. It said costs fell 15% from the last quarter of 2002.

As a whole the firm posted a loss of 47 million crowns (5 million euros) in the first quarter, narrower than the prior-year period’s 62 million crown loss. It said the merger between Storebrand Bank and Finansbanken has been completed “according to plan”.

"It is very satisfactory to note that we have sound control over the group's costs and that sales of life and health insurance products are strong,” said chief executive Idar Kreutzer.

Assets under management at Storebrand Investments were roughly flat at 141.4 billion crowns.