* UK profit up, Canada down
* Dividend up 18 pct, beating forecasts
* To spend 600 mln stg on “bolt-on” acquisitions (Releads, adds CEO quote, analyst, shares, detail)
By Carolyn Cohn
LONDON, March 8 (Reuters) - British insurer Aviva is considering acquisitions in Poland and Turkey, its chief executive said on Thursday, as it reported a 2 percent rise in operating profit and said it planned to return 500 million pounds ($695 million) to shareholders.
European insurers such as Allianz and Munich Re have been offering share buybacks as they struggle to find other ways to deploy capital.
Aviva, which provides general and life insurance and operates in countries including Britain, Canada and France, said it also planned to spend around 600 million pounds on “bolt-on” acquisitions and 900 million pounds on debt reduction.
Chief Executive Mark Wilson told a media call the firm was looking for purchases in “Poland, Turkey, anywhere we have existing markets”.
“We have this pile of cash...it’s not burning a hole in our pocket, if we don’t spend it we will give it back.”
The 600 million pound acquisition target includes Aviva’s 130 million euro ($161 million) purchase of Irish insurer Friends First late last year, it said in a trading statement.
Aviva’s 2017 operating profit was 3.1 billion pounds, slightly above a forecast 3 billion and helped by strong performance in its UK division.
Profits in Canada shrank, however, hurt by a rise in bodily injury claims and large commercial insurance and weather-related losses.
KBW analysts described the results as a “mixed bag”.
Aviva’s shares were down 1.7 percent to 498 pence at 0900 GMT, lagging a flat FTSE 100 index.
It said it would pay a total dividend of 27.4 pence, up 18 percent and above a forecast 26.4 pence.
$1 = 0.8070 euros Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; editing by Simon Jessop and Jason Neely