Direct Line is planning to boost its expansion into the personal assistance market.

Finance director Steve Clarke outlined the plans to Insurance Times after the red phone brand reported its earned premiums grew by 34% to £1,408m for 2001.

Its parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland group, reported pre-tax profits up 32% to £5.8bn.

Direct Line's contribution to group profit increased by 30% to £261m.

Direct Line finance director Steve Clarke said: "This result has not come out of nowhere. Premium rates were in the doldrums.

"We've been looking to grow the business across all our product lines as well as to extend ourselves into the general assistance business for the consumer."

Direct Line's own-branded roadside assistance, as distinct from its Green Flag brand, was up 8% for 2001 on the year before.

Clarke admitted the growth in motor premium rates, Direct Line's stronghold, had slowed.

He warned of further costs to be passed on to customers.

"The rate of premium inflation in motor has slowed down. Twelve months ago we were looking at double digit increases year on year and that isn't the case now," he said.

Clarke did not expect the performance within motor insurance to improve significantly.

"I don't think there's the scope for it," he said. "It's still a very competitive market."