Martin Gilbert Steps Down as Co-CEO at Standard Life Aberdeen

Standard Life Aberdeen has ditched its co-chief executive structure, with Keith Skeoch taking sole responsibility for the role and Martin Gilbert stepping down

David Brenchley 13 March, 2019 | 11:48AM
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Martin Gilbert, Standard Life Aberdeen, Aberdeen Asset Management, Morningstar analyst rating, chief executive

Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) has ditched its co-chief executive structure, announcing Keith Skeoch will become sole CEO with Martin Gilbert stepping down from his role with immediate effect.

Skeoch and Gilbert had been jointly in charge at the Edinburgh-based asset manager since Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management merged in August 2017. Gilbert will now become vice chairman of Standard Life Aberdeen and chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments.

In his new role, the firm said Gilbert will be able to focus solely on strategic relationships with key clients, winning new business and realising the potential from its global network and product capabilities.

Sir Douglas Flint, chairman of Standard Life Aberdeen, added the firm’s new structure “will strengthen our client focus, simplify reporting lines and facilitate robust execution of the next stages of our transition and transformation programmes”.

“A great deal has been achieved by both Martin and Keith to drive the business forward, and leave us well-placed for the future,” he continued.

Gilbert co-founded Aberdeen Asset Management in 1983 and had been CEO from then until the merger. Skeoch joined Standard Life Investments as chief investment officer in 1999, becoming CEO in 2004.

The news was announced at the same time as full-year 2018 results, which showed continued net outflows from its funds, particularly its Global Absolute Return Strategy.

Despite the negatives, Skeoch said the firm’s integration process is ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, he added, he’s been “encouraged by improvements in investment performance in key areas”.

“Our ‘new active’ capabilities mean that we are set up well to capitalise on the trends and opportunities shaping our industry – while continuing to deliver value and returns for our shareholders.”

Operating profit came in at £650 million, down 1.6% year-on-year but 5% higher than consensus expectations. Shares rose as much as 4% in Wednesday morning trading.

Morningstar Analyst View

Since the merger, which created one of the largest fund managers in the UK, Morningstar analysts have been neutral on the firm’s parent pillar.

Morningstar analyst David Holder says Gilbert stepping down is not surprising news, as joint-CEO structures tend to be rare and utilised for transitional periods.

"With the merger nearing operational completion, this development should allow for clearer accountability and transparency in what are currently very challenging times for the business and for active money managers more generally," Holder adds.

Holder notes that proposed synergies are on track, with approximately 75% of the transition and transformation programme having been completed as at the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, the integration of the joint investment platform looks to be largely implemented. And progress has been made regarding integrating the respective legacy investment processes, which also involved refining the analysts' research template, how their ideas are brought forward and their accountability.

"Together with improved technology, this could be a sound base for improved investment performance," says Holder. "We continue to monitor the evolving dynamics within the new group and whether or not combined savings will be passed on to investors through reduced fees.”

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David Brenchley

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