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ZURICH, May 10 (Reuters) - Swiss Life said it was making progress on its 2018 strategic goals thanks to growth in its fee business and third-party asset management despite lower first-quarter premiums.
Gross premiums fell 1 percent in local currency to 6.54 billion Swiss francs ($6.50 billion), slightly behind expectations for 6.595 billion francs in a Reuters poll of five analysts.
"Swiss Life has made a good start to the year," Chief Financial Officer Thomas Buess said in a statement. "We also managed to increase fee income and assets under management in the first quarter of 2017. That shows we are continuing our progress towards implementing our group-wide programme 'Swiss Life 2018'."
Switzerland's biggest life insurer has focused on trimming costs and raising asset management and investment income to compensate sluggishness in its core life insurance business.
Like other insurers, Swiss Life -- whose main markets include Switzerland, France and Germany -- has been squeezed by low and even negative interest rates.
While the group recorded a decline in premium volumes across all its geographic regions last year, it still managed to raise net income 5 percent through its focus on growing asset management and fee income.
Fee income rose 5 percent in local currency to 340 million Swiss francs in the first three months of 2017.
Swiss Life asset managers achieved net new asset inflows of 2.7 billion francs in external customer business during the quarter, as assets under management increased to 52.69 billion francs at the end of March.
Direct investment generated 1.037 billion francs, just below 1.053 billion francs in the prior-year period.
The group in March announced Chief Executive Patrick Frost would be taking a sabbatical until mid-August to undergo treatment for cancer, with Buess leading operations in the interim.
$1 = 1.0066 Swiss francs Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields