(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Keith Skeoch is leaving on a low. The outgoing chief executive officer of Standard Life Aberdeen Plc engineered the creation of the U.K.’s biggest standalone fund manager three years ago through a mega-merger. Figures released Friday show his firm has lost the top slot to Schroders Plc.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. When Skeoch merged his company with Martin Gilbert’s Aberdeen Asset Management, their aim was to create a fund management behemoth able to compete in what Gilbert dubbed the $1 trillion club. While their instinct was correct that size would be the key to survival, aiming for economies of scale to offset the relentless downward pressure on fees, the reality of combining two different cultures took its toll on the most fundamental aspect of the business – making money for customers.
In 2018, just half of the firm’s funds were ahead of their benchmarks on a three-year basis, and that’s before fees were taken into account. While performance got better last year, 40% of investments still lagged their benchmark, and this year’s continued improvement to just 32% underperforming comes too late for clients who’ve been withdrawing money in droves in recent years.
Standard Life’s drop in the U.K. rankings is not a surprise. I wrote in March that its loss of a big mandate from Lloyds Banking Group Plc — the lender completed the transfer of 75 billion pounds ($98 billion) of portfolios to Schroders in April — would probably lead to a change in the league table. But it will still sting.
Standard Life Chairman Douglas Flint eased Gilbert out of his co-CEO role last year, and announced Skeoch’s departure at the end of June. The new CEO, Stephen Bird, is scheduled to take over at the end of September after 21 years at Citigroup Inc., most recently as head of its global consumer banking unit, after acting as the bank’s top executive in Asia.
Bird’s lack of experience in fund management can be viewed as a hindrance, but it may also let him view the business with a fresh perspective. Three years after its creation, Standard Life Aberdeen is sorely in need of a reboot.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering asset management. He previously was the London bureau chief for Bloomberg News. He is also the author of "Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable."
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