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A Sun Life Financial sign is seen outside of their building before their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto May 7, 2014.MARK BLINCH/Reuters

Sun Life Financial Inc.'s profit climbed in the third quarter, and the company said it would buy back shares in the coming year.

The Toronto-based insurer's profit from continuing operations, which strip out the U.S. annuities business it sold, was $435-million or 71 cents per share, up from $324-million in the same period last year.

The company surprised the market by announcing a stock buyback program of up to nine million shares, or about 1.5 per cent of shares outstanding, beginning on Nov. 10.

Sun Life's chief executive officer Dean Connor said the company benefited from growing assets under management, which reached $698.2-billion.

"Our operations in Canada reported solid operating income growth this quarter, with continued strength in both insurance and wealth sales," Mr. Connor said in a statement. He added that sales of institutional and retail funds in the company's asset management arm Sun Life Global Investments more than doubled from the third quarter one year ago.

Sun Life's operating profit in the quarter, watched by the market as a measure of results without some accounting adjustments and other considerations, was $467-million or 76 cents per share, compared to $422-million at the same time last year. Analysts were expecting 74 cents per share.

The insurer's quarterly dividend was unchanged at 36 cents per common share, but Mr. Connor said that company board members would revisit the payout level again in 2015.