Keith Skeoch named sole CEO at Standard Life Aberdeen

Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) has ditched its controversial co-chief executive roles in a move that has seen Keith Skeoch take sole charge of the business.

Former joint boss Martin Gilbert (left) will step down to become vice-chairman while Keith Skeoch is to be sole chief executive. Picture: Graham Flack
Former joint boss Martin Gilbert (left) will step down to become vice-chairman while Keith Skeoch is to be sole chief executive. Picture: Graham Flack

Former co-CEO Martin Gilbert – who built Aberdeen Asset Management on his relationships with key global clients – has instead become vice-chairman at the Edinburgh-headquartered investment group, a step that will see him focus on winning new business.

The co-CEO structure had come under criticism, particularly given SLA has suffered from poor performance since the merger of Standard Life Aberdeen and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017.

Gilbert said he had instigated the leadership change when new chairman Sir Douglas Flint came in late last year.

“Too much time was being spent on dealing with the noise about the joint CEO issue rather than what we were doing in the business, and we had to try and sort that,” Gilbert said.

He said the move would see him get back to “doing what I enjoy the most, which is looking after the big clients and working to build the business”.

Flint said the vice-chairman role would enable the business to leverage Gilbert’s “strong relationship with clients over the world”.

He added: “The vice-chairman role gives him more time and capacity to build on that. Meanwhile, everything else rests with Keith. This is a natural evolution that plays to the strengths of two individuals.”

In other management changes, finance director Bill Rattray is stepping down at the end of May, to be replaced by former PwC partner Stephanie Bruce.

The news came as the group reported that underlying pre-tax profits dipped to £650 million in 2018 from £660m in 2017. Net outflows reached £40.9 billion, up from the £32.9bn seen in 2017. Assets under management and administration fell from £608bn to £551.5bn. The company said it had taken steps to address investment performance and recent months had seen signs of improvement. It also said the integration of the two firms was now 75 per cent complete and progressing ahead of schedule.

John Moore at Brewin Dolphin in Scotland, described the figures as a “mixed bag”, stating: “Part of that can be put down to SLA going through a great deal of change during a period of economic uncertainty and market volatility. However, there are reasons to be positive in the long term – the fundamentals of a strong business are there, if its management team can steer the ship through these choppy waters.”

David McCann at Numis reiterated his view that the market is “materially undervaluing” the company, although he added that many of the catalysts for the share price to better reflect the fundamentals of the business “may not be short term”.

A final dividend of 14.3p has been announced, taking the total payout to 21.6p – up 1.4 per year-on-year. Shares closed up 5.8p at 250.8p.