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Aegon to sell non-core and more volatile operations, cut costs, reduce debt

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AMSTERDAM, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Aegon NV, the Dutch-based insurer that does most of its business in the United States, told investors on Thursday it hopes to end years of underperformance by cutting costs and selling businesses that are either costly with volatile returns, or relatively small.

New Chief Executive Lard Friese put forward financial targets that include cutting 400 million euros ($484 million) in costs -- which will require restructuring charges of 650 million euros -- and generating free cash flow of at least 1.4 billion euros in 2021-2023.

Aegon shares have fallen 42% over the past 5 years as it struggled to maintain adequate solvency.

"Some of you will think: what will be different this time?" Friese said at the company's capital markets day. Friese pointed to steps already taken since he departed rival insurer NN Group to join Aegon in April.

"In the past six months we've made choices, real ones, like exiting traditional interest rate-sensitive variable annuities and choosing core markets," he said.

In October, Aegon sold its trademark Pyramid building in downtown San Francisco for $650 million and in November, it sold its Central and Eastern European operations for 830 million euros.

Friese said on Thursday the company will retain main operations in the United States, Britain and the Netherlands, with a smaller presence in growth markets China, Iberia and Brazil.

It intends to stop selling defined benefit pension and rate-sensitive life insurance products.

Its shares, down more than 20% in the year to date, declined 2% to 3.10 euro by 0900 GMT on Thursday.

In August, the company reported first half underlying pre-tax earnings of 700 million euros ($826.7 million), down 31% from 1.01 billion euros in the same period of 2019, citing higher U.S. mortality and lower interest rates. ($1 = 0.8271 euros) (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Kim Coghill)