Standard Life today used its annual shareholder meeting to re-affirm its concerns over Scottish independence and said it continued to work on detailed contingency plans that could see it relocate operations in the event of a split.
The pensions and investments giant, which became the first major firm to wade into the referendum debate when it warned in February that it was considering moving some of its business and staff, upped its rhetoric on the issue and was backed by investors at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
Standard Chairman Gerry Grimstone re-iterated the company’s position that it remains apolitical and does not seek to influence the vote, but is instead ensuring it is fully prepared to protect its customers and shareholders.
The FTSE 100 company has been based in Edinburgh throughout its 189-year history, and Grimstone said it remains “a good place from which to do business”.
But he added: “Our successful story in Scotland is something we certainly hope can continue. But I have to say, from reviewing the information currently available to us, we do believe that a number of material issues remain unresolved that would have a significant impact on our business and our customers.”
Those issues include the currency an independent Scotland would use, its membership of the European Union, its monetary and fiscal policies, and financial regulation, he said.
“We have made it clear that if we felt the interests of the business, or those of our customers, clients or shareholders were put at risk by constitutional change, we would take whatever action we see necessary to protect their interests and our competitive position,” Grimstone said.
“We would not hesitate, for example, to move parts of our operations to England, where the majority of our customers are located, or move the registration of our funds.”
Following his speech, made to a crowd that fell far short of the huge auditorium’s capacity, Grimstone was challenged by one shareholder who accused the board of taking sides in the independence debate and said they should not have made their concerns public.
But Grimstone said it had been essential to reassure customers, and called for a show of hands on the issue. He was backed by almost all of the several dozen shareholders in attendance.
In a briefing to journalists before the meeting, Grimstone suggested the contingency planning goes beyond setting up registered companies in England into which it could transfer its businesses and is a wide ranging, detailed and ongoing process.
“In financial services, continuity is vital and customers won’t tolerate uncertainty so we need to be ready to move quickly if the need arises,” he said.
He added the group’s de-mutualisition and stock market flotation in 2006 meant it was well versed in complicated internal processes, and that any changes would essentially be “business as usual” as global financial firms were constantly responding to external risks and regulation.
The AGM also saw Standard Life’s remuneration report and long-term incentive plan for directors approved by just over 95 per cent of the votes cast.
A motion to provide “limited authority to the company and its subsidiaries to make political donations and to incur political expenditure” was opposed by almost 6 per cent.