Standard Life boss confident of AAM merger approval

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The chief executive of Standard Life has said he is confident the group’s merger with Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) will gain shareholder approval, despite governance concerns over the £11 billion tie-up.

Keith Skeoch said that unease over the joint chief executive structure and a bumper 16-member board has not resulted in a “sizeable shareholder push back”.

'From everything I can see today, this deal is going to happen,' said Standard Life chief executive Keith Skeoch. Picture: Graham Flack

'From everything I can see today, this deal is going to happen,' said Standard Life chief executive Keith Skeoch. Picture: Graham Flack

• READ MORE: Watchdog probes Standard Life-Aberdeen Asset deal

He said: “From everything I can see today, this deal is going to happen. There are always questions (from shareholders), but I wouldn’t say having joint CEOs or the board’s composition are the dominant issues. And the chairman has made it absolutely clear that over time the board will reduce in size.

“We haven’t had any serious or sizeable shareholder push back, but I’ve learnt not to be complacent.”

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We need get the message out about the strategic logic of the deal

Keith Skeoch

The combined entity, to be called Standard Life Aberdeen, will be jointly headed up by Skeoch and AAM boss Martin Gilbert.

Skeoch said that it was “abundantly clear” that both men would be required at the helm in order to “get things done”.

Eyebrows have also been raised over the proposed bonus structure that will see chief investment officer Rod Paris eligible to earn 865 per cent of his £450,000 base salary.

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AAM boss Martin Gilbert, left, will be joint Standard Life Aberdeen chief alongside Keith Skeoch. Picture: Graham Flack

AAM boss Martin Gilbert, left, will be joint Standard Life Aberdeen chief alongside Keith Skeoch. Picture: Graham Flack

But Skeoch brushed aside these concerns, pointing to the 97 per cent approval rate Standard Life has secured for its remuneration policy over the past three years.

Shareholders in both firms will vote on the deal on 19 June, with Edinburgh-based Standard Life requiring 50 per cent investor approval for the deal and Aberdeen 75 per cent.

• READ MORE: Standard Life keeps powder dry on indyref2 implications

As well as institutional shareholders, Standard Life will also have to convince a sizeable number of retail investors, which make up half of its share register.

Totalling 1.2 million people, these individual shareholders are spread across the UK and Skeoch admitted that Standard Life must do more to engage with them ahead of the vote.

“By and large, they are supportive, but we do need to do work to get the message out about the strategic logic of the deal and the financial benefits that follow for them as shareholders. There are some retail shareholders who are very engaged and very vocal, others less so.”

• READ MORE: 800 jobs to go in Standard Life-Aberdeen Asset merger

The deal also faces regulatory scrutiny, with the Competition & Markets Authority this week launching an investigation to ascertain if the tie-up could harm competition within the industry.

If it gets the green light, the merger will create Europe’s second-biggest fund manager with £670bn under management.

The merger, which was agreed in March, is targeting cost savings of £200 million a year, with about 800 jobs expected to be lost over a three-year period from a global workforce of 9,000.

On Brexit, Skeoch confirmed that Standard Life plans to set up an EU subsidiary in Dublin to cater for its 500,000 customers in Ireland, Germany and Austria. Aberdeen already has a distribution company in Luxembourg.

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