The stock markets began the year slowly and with increased volatility, but improved steadily, helping Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial report a strong first quarter.

“Ameriprise delivered a solid quarter led by double-digit earnings growth in our Advice & Wealth Management business,” said Jim Cracchiolo, chairman and chief executive, in a news release. “Overall, I’m pleased with our results given at the beginning of the year markets drove lower fee levels and muted client activity. As volatility settled, client activity returned to historical levels in line with what we expected.”

For the quarter ended March 31, Ameriprise earned $395 million, or $2.82 per share, down from $594 million, or $3.91 per share, in the first quarter last year. But adjusting for one-time factors including the market effect on variable-annuity benefits, indexed universal life benefits and the repurchase of 2.8 million shares the adjusted operating EPS was $3.75 per share, up 2% from the first quarter last year.

As market volatility from the start of the year quieted down, client activity increased, allowing the company’s Advice & Wealth Management business to report profits up 11%.

Ameriprise has identified the wealth-management business as a key growth area. It’s aiming more resources there after it divested one of its smaller businesses and gained regulatory approval to broaden product offerings.

After the quarter ended, the company announced it had agreed to sell its auto- and home-insurance business for net proceeds of $950 million and that the Office of Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve had approved its plans to open a federal savings bank. The company expects to launch the bank with services aimed at its wealth management clients this quarter.

Pretax operating earnings in Ameriprise’s asset-management segment were down 25% from the first quarter last year, to $146 million. The company said the decrease from $195 million in the first quarter last year was the result of fund outflows, lower average equity markets and an unfavorable foreign-exchange translation. Assets under management for the segment were $459 billion, down 5% from the first quarter of last year but an improvement from the $431 billion at the end of the fourth quarter.

Ameriprise’s annuities business saw a 1% decrease in its net revenue during the quarter but careful expense management helped them report pretax adjusted operating earnings of $128 million, up 2% from the same quarter a year ago.