SALES of life and pension products rose just 4pc in the first quarter of the year, as another stellar performance from single-premium products outstripped hefty losses in regular savings and pension plans.
The muted growth picture is revealed in data circulated by actuarial consultants Milliman in recent days, and comes against a period of unprecedented flux in the industry.
Irish Life & Permanent is preparing for the stock-market flotation of its Irish Life Assurance business later in the summer, while Bank of Ireland must sell off its New Ireland arm within two years.
Potential investors in either company will be buying into an industry that has been in annual decline since 2008, though the rate of contraction has narrowed from about 30pc in 2009 to just 6pc last year.
The latest figures show sales rose by 4pc in the first quarter of this year, based on the industry benchmark Annual Premium Equivalent (which counts 100pc of all regular premium sales plus 10pc of single premium).
One-off products were the stand-out performers once again, with sales of single-premium life insurance rising 58pc to €518m and single-premium pension products up 10pc to €886m.
Both product lines were building on a strong first quarter of 2010, when single-premium sales across the board rose by 123pc. The strong performance in singe-premium policies contrasted sharply with falls across the industry's regular premium offerings, mirroring the performance in 2010.
Regular premium savings were the worst hit, falling 14pc, followed by pensions, down 11pc, and protection, down 10pc. Group risk was down 26pc.
"The overall figures show the recovery in the life and pensions market is still some way off," a senior life insurance source said last night.
"The positive news is on strong single-premium sales, which shows there is money out there and customers are actively looking for alternatives to deposit accounts.
"Unfortunately, the weaker regular-premium sales show that customers are unwilling to commit for the longer-term."