What is behind fund manager merger talks?

Douglas Fraser
Business/economy editor, Scotland

  • Published
Image caption,
Edinburgh is one of Europe's main asset management centres

The quiet but very powerful end of finance sees assets being managed across portfolios of equities, bonds and property.

Scotland has built up a specialism in that, with Edinburgh one of Europe's main asset management centres.

It can seem removed from the retail market.

Jointly having £660bn of assets under management, the two firms heading towards merger are huge, but not all about the super-rich.

Much of the money put aside in small-scale investments, insurance and pensions is placed with such specialist firms.

But an increasing share of it is going to funds that are passive, investing across the market so as to track it.

Companies such as Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset are under pressure to cut the higher costs of actively managing funds.

Standard Life, aged 192, is strongly rooted in the Scottish capital, and has been transformed in 11 years from a mutual to a significant plc, as a fund manager and also as a pensions, savings and life assurance company.

It has ventures in the Indian and Chinese household savings and investment markets.

Aberdeen Asset Management is closer to a pure-play asset managing firm, which has focused its efforts on emerging markets.

That has made its performance more volatile than others, and in the past three years more funds have been withdrawn than placed with it.

It is a relative newcomer, founded in 1983, and its growth has been the personal mission of chief executive Martin Gilbert.

Much of that is through acquisition, including the investment arm of Scottish Widows, which it bought from Lloyds Banking Group in 2013.

Gilbert has a different style to Standard Life's old-schooler Keith Skeoch, and it will be interesting to watch how a chief executive job share works out between them.

The logic of putting the firms together is to build investment clout, in competition with US-based giants such as Blackrock.

They want to assert that active management of funds can work for clients.

With those passive funds growing, this offers "significant synergy potential", which is likely to mean duplicate roles being shed.

At present, the companies employ around 9,000 people.

That clout as a shareholder can also be applied to shaping the decisions of companies in which the asset managers have stakes.

Both Standard Life and Aberdeen have sought to be active and responsible shareholders - with a close interest, for instance, in the incentives behind other firms' boardroom pay.