Continued economic uncertainty has increased the opportunities for Aegon in pursuing its clear purpose of helping people take responsibility for their financial future. To capture these opportunities, Aegon will accelerate the development of new business models by investing in innovative, technology-driven distribution channels, to connect better and more frequently with customers, improve service levels and increase retention rates. Aegon's accelerated investments in technology will also better support intermediaries to adapt to the changing distribution environment.
In recent years, Aegon has implemented a broad restructuring program to sharpen its focus on its core lines of business, significantly reduce its overall cost base, and create greater efficiencies across the organization. A further demonstration of Aegon's more disciplined focus has been a better balance between spread-based and fee-generating business, a substantially improved risk-return profile and an improved capital base ratio.
Optimize portfolio Aegon has reached an agreement to exit its life, health and pension joint venture with Unnim Banc and sell its 50% stake to Unnim for a total consideration of EUR 353 million. The sale is expected to result in a book gain of approximately EUR 105 million before tax. It is anticipated that the transaction will close during the second quarter of 2013. Aegon's share in underlying earnings before tax of the joint venture totaled EUR 20 million in 2012.
This anticipated divestment by Aegon is a consequence of the consolidation underway within the Spanish banking sector. However, Aegon maintains a long-term commitment to Spain and has recently reinforced its market position with an exclusive 25-year strategic partnership with Banco Santander, Spain's largest financial group, to distribute life and general insurance products through its extensive network of over 4,600 bank branches. The long-term alliance provides access to a potential client base of 12 million individuals across the country. Under the terms of the agreement, Aegon will acquire a 51% stake in both a life insurance company as well as in a non-life insurance company for a consideration of EUR 220 million. Depending on the performance of the partnership, Aegon may pay an additional amount after five years. Furthermore, Aegon Spain will provide the back-office services to the joint venture companies.In Central & Eastern Europe, Aegon recently announced two transactions to further strengthen its position in this developing region. In December 2012, Aegon acquired Fidem Life, the fifth largest life insurance company in Ukraine. The transaction was closed on February 8, 2013. Last month, Aegon announced to take over Eureko's life insurance and pension business in Romania and to integrate it within Aegon's existing operations. Following the transaction, Aegon will become the country's third largest pension provider and a top ten provider of life insurance products. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2013, pending regulatory approval. Aegon has been active in Central & Eastern Europe since 1992 and now has operations in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine. Deliver operational excellence Aegon has made a strong commitment to improving its performance as measured by factors other than purely financial. Consequently, Aegon has achieved "silver class" status in RobecoSAM's Sustainability Yearbook. Aegon's silver-class listing is based on its score in the RobecoSAM's annual Corporate Sustainability Assessment, part of the Dow Jones' 2012 Sustainability Index (DJSI). Companies within the silver class must score within a range of 1-5 percent from the score of the sector's sustainability leader. Aegon showed significant improvement in performance, keeping its presence in the DJSI World Index and has again been included in the more strenuous DJSI Europe Index. The ranking can be attributed mainly to strong gains in brand management, environmental risk detection, financial inclusion, human capital development, and talent attraction and retention. Aegon continues to make substantial progress in improving efficiency. In the Netherlands, Aegon is on track to reduce operating expenses by EUR 100 million, compared to the cost base for 2010. The cost savings aim to offset pressure on underlying earnings. Up to and including the fourth quarter, Aegon has implemented costs savings of EUR 89 million. Enhance customer loyalty A key element of Aegon's strategy is to get closer to its end-customers by an increased utilization of technology and investment in innovative capabilities to address customer needs at every stage of the life cycle. At the heart of this approach is Aegon's determination to shorten the distance between the company and its customers, provide the possibility of interaction with greater ease and regularity, and better utilize the knowledge about customers and their potential needs which the company possesses. Pursuing innovation and employing technology to a much greater degree are essential to Aegon's ability to enhance customer loyalty. Aegon further seeks to provide greater clarity and understanding about the products and services it provides, while working to create a distinctive customer experience through enhanced service. Increasingly, individuals are exploring financial services and insurance-related products online and possess greater knowledge about how certain products and services will address their needs. Aegon has recently launched online sites to enable customers to actually purchase products via the internet - or be referred to advisors - in the United States and China. Aegon is also leveraging digital technology in Turkey to enable intermediaries to have high-quality customer conversations, and in Hungary, its recently launched mobile application was designated for a top industry award. Putting the customer first is central to Aegon's refreshed strategy and longer-term ambitions. Management within all business units are fully aligned and incentivized to create the culture within Aegon that fully demonstrates this shared focus, and to measure customer satisfaction on a consistent basis.