“Trusted by our customers for over 130 years, we draw on decades of specialist risk management expertise to protect the irreplaceable – palaces, castles, cathedrals, schools and communities right across the UK and abroad. Our focus on loss prevention, combined with a more benign environment, has helped to deliver higher underwriting profits which we, in turn, have been able to give to good causes across all the communities in which we operate.
In 2018 we delivered a fifth year of sound underlying financial performance, underpinned by our focus on delivering sustainable, profitable long-term growth through our disciplined underwriting approach. We saw GWP growth across all our territories, thanks to a number of new business wins and high retention rates across our businesses, thanks to high levels of customer satisfaction.
Pre-tax profits were lower than in recent years, reflecting the effect of short-term stock market fluctuations on our investment portfolio. We continue to take a long-term view of the market and have benefited from strong investment returns in recent years and have seen a more positive start to 2019 in investment markets.
Our strong capital position enabled us to invest significantly in the future of our business. This included work on a new core operating system for the UK and Ireland insurance business, which will provide a faster and more responsive service for our customers and brokers. Alongside this, we continued to look for strategic opportunities for sustainable growth. Our insurance broker SEIB acquired new books of business and we continue to monitor the market for opportunities that complement our existing offer.
We also announced plans to move to a purpose-built head office near our current offices in Gloucester. This demonstrates a significant investment in our people, providing a better working environment for our colleagues.
Our strategic goal is to be the most trusted and ethical specialist financial services group and we continued to win external accolades for the way we do business.
For the eighth consecutive time, we were named by Fairer Finance as the best and most trusted provider of UK home insurance while EdenTree, our investment management business, was named MoneyFacts Best Ethical Investment Provider for the 10th year in a row. Our Claims team collected three awards at the Insurance Post Claims Awards for excellence in customer care and SEIB won Personal Lines Broker of the Year at the British Claims Awards.
We also have a purpose to contribute to the greater good of society and our financial performance enabled us to make donations of £18.8m during the year, to our charitable owner and to the causes we support directly. Together, we have now given £64m of the £100m charitable giving target we set ourselves in April 2016. I would like to thank all our colleagues, customers, brokers and business partners for their support in helping us to build a movement for good.”