The Group commenced the 2020 financial year from a solid base, with growth accelerating for most businesses in the second half of 2019.
While recognising that we would continue to face headwinds in some of our key markets in 2020 due to subdued economic growth, we remained confident in our ability to deliver solid growth in all key performance indicators. This was achieved in the first two months of 2020, with most businesses outperforming targets for the period by a healthy margin. However, the outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, followed by the declaration of states of disaster and emergency in a number of countries where we operate, abruptly transformed the operating environment into one of the most challenging periods faced by the Group and our stakeholders.
As indicated in previous COVID-19 operational updates, we responded rapidly to the lockdowns and curfews implemented in most of our markets, with no significant disruption in back-office operations. General restrictions on face-to-face sales, however, had a severe impact on new life (covered) business sales and the value of new covered business written (VNB). The impacts on new business were particularly severe at the outset of the restrictions, but there has been a continued recovery as digital technology was rapidly adopted to allow for new business to be written. Investment market volatility rose to historic levels, with our key markets not yet recovering fully from the low points reached during the latter part of March. Global growth estimates were revised sharply down, with deep recessions anticipated across most of our footprint in 2020.
Despite these challenges we remain resilient as reflected in our underlying operational performance during the six months to 30 June 2020 and a healthy solvency position throughout the period. This resilience is founded on the quality of our client and other stakeholder relationships, a superior strategic positioning, highly skilled and motivated employees and a generally prudent approach to managing our business.
Net result from financial services declined by 22%, impacted by the downturn in equity markets across our largest markets, a general widening in corporate credit spreads, an increase in doubtful debt provisions in respect of our institutional and retail credit books as well as substantial COVID-19 related relief offered to our clients and intermediaries. These are direct outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have estimated that the direct impacts of the pandemic have been such that in their absence, net result from financial services would have seen growth of 18% (as explained below).
Growth of 40% and 44% respectively in new business volumes and net fund flows represents a particularly satisfactory performance for the period. New business volumes increased by 40%, with particularly strong contributions from Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM), Sanlam Investment Group (SIG) and Sanlam Corporate. Investment business was the main contributor, augmented by satisfactory general insurance sales. Life business lagged due to the restrictions on face-to-face sales (although as we adopted digital technology these began to recover later in the period), with net VNB declining by 29% as a result.
RoGEV per share for the six months to 30 June 2020 of -4,6 % (not annualised) compares to a target of 6,4% for the six months. The valuations of all non-life (non-covered) businesses were adversely affected by reduced top-line growth and future investment return assumptions in the short to medium term, while persistency assumptions were strengthened for life insurance (covered) business.
six month return
up 18% excluding the impact of COVID-19
2,79% in 2019