Provident Financial benefited from rising motor premiums in 1999 to post an 8.5% increase in pre-tax profits to £155 million. Insurance division profits rose 30% to £25.4 m.

The company, which includes Provident Insurance, Colonnade Insurance brokers and Colonnade Direct, saw its customer base grow by 12% to 2.7 million in 1999.

Chairman John van Kuffeler said the insurance division benefited from rising motor premiums in the market as a whole.

The division had enjoyed 'an outstanding year", he said, with substantially increased volumes and profits, together with excellent returns on capital.

Van Kuffeler said the strategy for the motor insurance business remains to earn attractive margins rather than to maximise market share.

Provident is a specialist player, focusing mainly on women drivers, to whom it provides non-comprehensive cover. In line with government policy, Provident extends the range of financial services offered to lower income households.

Van Kuffeler added that a key part of the group's strategy is to develop its businesses internationally, building on the success of the introduction of home credit into Poland and the Czech Republic.

The pre-tax profits include international start-up losses of £8.4 million.