200-year old funds giant jettisons Standard Life brand in Phoenix deal

·3-min read

Standard Life Aberdeen is preparing to jettison its flagship brands in a move that will draw a line under centuries of financial services history and pave the way for a revamp of one of the City's biggest fund managers.

Sky News has learnt that SLA's new chief executive, Stephen Bird, is on the brink of agreeing a deal to sell the Standard Life name to Phoenix Group, the life insurer.

A source close to Phoenix said it had been working on the plans under the codename Project Hulkum, and that the transaction could be announced within days.

That transaction would form part of a restructured relationship agreement between SLA and Phoenix that would include extending the terms of an asset management partnership reached in 2018, the source added.

For SLA, the decision to dispose of the brand will carry huge symbolic resonance, since it will be accompanied by a move to abandon or modify the Aberdeen Standard Investments name established by the £13bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017.

It will also prompt a further decision to change the name of the Standard Life Aberdeen parent company, one of the most important financial services groups in Britain.

That change will not take place immediately but is expected to be confirmed later this year.

Mr Bird has referred in recent public comments to the group he runs having an excessive number of brands and the need to streamline them.

However, the option for the company to rebrand altogether has yet to be publicly floated.

One idea under serious consideration is for the Aberdeen name to be retained in some form as part of a new identity given the investment that has gone into it over several decades and the enormous profile it has, particularly in Asian markets.

The company has ploughed tens of millions of pounds into promoting the Aberdeen Standard Investments name through golf, sailing and other corporate sponsorship deals.

It was unclear on Thursday evening whether Mr Bird and the SLA board would choose to prioritise one of the group's other existing brands or create a new corporate name altogether.

The price that Phoenix would pay for the Standard Life brand was also unclear.

Mr Bird's radical move comes months after he was installed in the top job by Sir Douglas Flint, SLA's chairman, with a mandate to reinvigorate the underperforming group, which manages more than £450bn of assets.

His decision marks another step towards unwinding one of the most significant mergers in the UK fund management industry for years.

Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen's founder, and Keith Skeoch, Standard Life's boss, became joint chief executives of the combined group, but both stepped down within three years of the deal's completion.

SLA's shares have fared dismally on the public markets, leaving the company with an equity valuation of less than £7bn on Thursday evening.

Mr Bird's appointment was welcomed by investors after a successful career at other big financial institutions, including Citi.

He has signalled a determination to speed up an overhaul of the company, recently putting Parmenion, a platform servicing independent financial advisers on the block.

The new chief has also indicated that he will consider acquisitions on a selective basis.

Phoenix and SLA both declined to comment.