CEO defends change
Bird admits board expected flak over Abrdn brand
New name attracted ridicule
Standard Life Aberdeen chief executive Stephen Bird has admitted the board had been prepared for a backlash when it unveiled its new brand name.
The company was ridiculed last week when it unveiled the switch to Abrdn, with critics pouncing on the omission of vowels, its association with Aberdeen when the company is based in Edinburgh, and its regrettable pronunciation as ‘A Burden’.
Mr Bird, who took over as chief executive last year, defended the decision as part of a major shift in strategy.
He told the Mail on Sunday that the renaming, dreamed up by consultancy Wolff Olins, reflects his attempt to modernise the company and shift it away from mainly selling investment funds and towards wealth management for individuals and digital services for financial advisers.
Mr Bird said the board had expected some criticism. “We actually had prepared our board by doing a bunch of brand case studies and virtually every one without exception got slated on day one.
“I remember the headlines ‘Aviva kills Norwich Union’ and the flak that created. So we were prepared for that. It’s about more than the brand, it’s what we deliver to our clients.”
Stphn Brd: ‘it’s about more than the brand’
He said the company, which manages £535 billion, was preparing to unleash plans in the summer that would transform the ‘declining’ fund management sector.
“The old traditional asset management industry is in decline. There are too many people living off fees just by sitting on assets. That’s not the future, there has to be change that benefits customers. Better value, performance and service,” he said.
Abrdn is undertaking a major overhaul of its Wrap and Elevate websites, which are used by half of the UK’s financial advisers to manage their clients’ money.
Bird said work should be complete by the summer, adding: “We’ve got a brand new release coming in August which is utterly transformational.
‘Today, IFAs [independent financial advisers] need to phone our call centres too often, do paper transactions and customer verifications – the new system digitises all of that.”
Standard Life Aberdeen was formed in an £11bn merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017.
The group sold its insurance business to Phoenix and earlier this year Phoenix, which also occupies Standard Life’s former HQ, acquired the Standard Life name.
Bird said the company was left with the Aberdeen name and it would have been “insane” to let go of it.
“So this idea of short form Abrdn, protected in digital, is the most rational way to do it.”