INSURANCE giant Zurich – which employs more than 600 people in Hampshire – has seen a big rise in profits.

The boost came at the same time as the business launched new initiatives to create a “progressive and inclusive” workplace.

Zurich UK saw earnings rise by 59 per cent to £413million last year, while its operating profit in general insurance rose 97 per cent to £271m.

In life and savings, operating profits rose 15 per cent to £142m.

The company – which employs 638 people in Whiteley – has been “repositioning” itself in the UK over the past three years, seeking to simplify the business with a focus on customer service.

It has also sought to be more family-friendly for its staff. During 2019, Zurich began advertising all its jobs as suitable for part-time, job share and flexible working, resulting in an immediate 25 per cent rise in applications from women.

It also introduced family-friendly policies including 16 weeks of parental leave for both sexes and support for those going through IVF treatment or bereavement.

Zurich UK chief executive Tulsi Naidu said: “Zurich UK has delivered an excellent performance in 2019, contributing strongly to Zurich’s overall global results.

“Earnings have increased by 59 per cent to £413m with a doubling of operating profits in general insurance and robust growth in life and savings.

“This strong performance has been driven by our strategic repositioning in the UK. Over the last three years, we have simplified the business, and enhanced our products, technical capability and customer service. We are now a stronger, more focused and customer-centric business, and this is paying off with improvement across all our key financial and strategic measures.

“I am very proud that we have achieved this shift in performance by creating a progressive and inclusive workplace, and being engaged with the communities we operate in. Today, we look forward to the future with confidence. We have a clear strategy, are committed to our customers, distributors and the communities we operate in, and will continue to build Zurich’s business in the UK.”

Last year, Zurich introduced new digital portals for motor and property, with systems to speed up payments to customers. It also invested in technology for detecting bogus claims.

Ms Naidu said of the figures: “This result is a product of the improvements we have made across every aspect of our general insurance business over the last few years – combining a real emphasis on technical excellence with improvements in customer service, simplified processes and digital capabilities.

“We have made it quicker and easier for customers to claim, and now pay a third of lower value claims on first contact, while motor and property customers can notify us of a loss any time, night or day.

“Above all, we provided crucial resilience to our customers, paying out £1.5billion in general insurance claims.

“Looking forward, we are clear there is more we can do to drive performance, and we are focused on this. Customer service and technical discipline will remain key priorities during 2020.”