LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance posted a better-than-expected annual operating profit on Thursday led by strong performance in its life business and offered a share buyback of up to 1.1 billion Swiss franc ($1.25 billion).

The operating profit rose 21% to $7.4 billion for the full-year ended Dec. 31, beating analysts' average estimate of $7.1 billion in a company-compiled poll.

Insurers have coped well with unexpected claims in recent years from issues such as COVID-19, climate disasters and the war in Ukraine, mainly by raising premium rates and excluding some business.

"I expect this positive momentum to continue and to achieve EPS (earnings per share) growth above 10% over the cycle," CEO Mario Greco said in a statement.

Zurich, Europe's fifth-largest insurer, last year set more ambitious three-year financial targets, including a 2025 goal for business operating profit after tax return on equity (BOPAT ROE) of more than 20%. BOPAT ROE for 2023 came in at 23.1%.

Zurich raised its expectation for compound annual EPS growth to more than 10%, from its original target of 8%.

The insurer said it planned to increase its dividend by 8% to 26 Swiss francs per share, in addition to the share buyback.

($1 = 0.8778 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Carolyn Cohn and Miranda Murray; Editing by Bartosz Dabrowski and Rashmi Aich)