Lower operating costs and tighter electronic systems have helped drive up profit at AXA, where underlying earnings increased £12m to £110m in the first half of the year.

AXA chief executive Peter Hubbard said a five-point improvement in the company's loss ratio to 54.4%, accompanied by the "disposal" of AXA Direct were "single key drivers" in pushing up profits.

In its UK and Ireland arm, underlying earnings increased by 19% from £99m to £118m in the period.

However, revenues remained flat at £1.56bn as growth in the UK stabilised "adverse developments" in the Ireland motor market.

The UK private motor book had "stabilised", Hubbard said. "We have changed our underwriting criteria to grow our portfolio."

He added that the AXA household book had grown 10% on the back of winning "some key accounts", including credit card company Capital One.

"Our challenge is to make our offering so great before potential clients are willing to relinquish control," he said.

The transfer of a major portfolio in the second half of 2004 and the launch of "lower premium products" aimed at a wider market improved health revenues by 8%.