Long ReadMar 8 2023

Abrdn must find a way through turbulent waters

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Abrdn must find a way through turbulent waters

The merger of Standard Life Investments and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017 was designed to bring together two mid-sized asset management businesses in order to create a company with sufficient scale to compete in a fund management market where scale is increasingly vital.

But five years after the deal completed, with the firm having gone through three different chief executives and several company names, the share price of the combined business is 45 per cent lower today than it was then.

Although both companies were synonymous with Scotland, they had very different origins. Standard Life Investments began as a division of the Standard Life insurance company, a business that was founded in 1825. Its office was on the corner of the prestigious St Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh.

Arguably each had too many funds, so when they combined, they really had too many funds. Darius McDermott, Chelsea Financial Services

In contrast, Martin Gilbert, the co-founder of Aberdeen Asset Management, previously told FTAdviser that when he was looking to expand that business he consciously moved to London, rather than Edinburgh, because he was not sure what reception he would get with a firm from the Scottish provinces if he entered the market in the Scottish capital.

In an attempt to bridge any cultural divide, Gilbert and Standard Life Investments boss Keith Skeoch were made co-chief executives, before Gilbert moved to a £600,000-a-year role as deputy chairman and then left the company.

The current chief executive is Stephen Bird, whose previous experience was running the retail banking arm of Citigroup in the US. 


The combined business comprised three different adviser platforms, two different forms of discretionary fund management, the 1825 advice business and the two fund management businesses. 

At the time of the merger, the company said it employed 1,000 investment professionals in 24 offices in 20 countries. 

The most recent set of results showed the company made a pre-tax loss of £615mn.

The group was profitable at the operating level, but writing down the value of some of its stake in other businesses meant it became loss-making. Operating profit was £263mn, down from £323mn in the prior year. 

The write-downs that pushed the operating profit into a pre-tax loss included £214mn of restructuring costs, a £494mn write-down on the value of unquoted assets and contracts previously acquired by the company, and a £187mn loss on the value of the company’s investments in listed businesses. 

One of Bird’s first moves was to sell the Parmenion adviser platform for £102mn to a private equity firm in 2021, and then to acquire the Interactive Investor retail platform for £1.5bn in 2022.