Asset plan

Abrdn’s Bird ‘wanted to sell £368bn investment arm’

Stephen Bird
Stephen Bird: proposed split

Abrdn chief executive Stephen Bird wanted to split up the company by selling its investment management business after completing its Interactive Investor acquisition last year, according to sources.

Mr Bird is said to have outlined his plans to the board in June last year, including disposal of the struggling £368bn investment arm.

However, the board vetoed the plan in favour of keeping the group together and retaining its core function as an asset management business.

Despite the decision, some executives acknowledged that the stock market was ascribing little value to the investment business, which has limited crossovers with Abrdn’s platforms for retail investors and financial advisers.

David McCann, an analyst at Deutsche Numis, has argued that the group should be broken up and is “worth more dead than alive”.

At the time of the strategic review, Mr Bird was said to be concerned that the headwinds faced by the investment business would worsen, according to Financial News which first reported the story.

It said his concerns proved justified, as the rise in interest rates has sucked funds out of managers of risk assets. Abrdn has suffered continued outflows, with operating profit from the investment arm tumbling by two-thirds to £26m in the first half of this year — just 20% of the group total.

Since the board’s decision to keep the group intact Mr Bird has supported the strategy, but costs have been taken from the investment business this year, largely by closing or merging the scores of funds inherited when Standard Life and Aberdeen merged in 2017.

Boston Consulting Group has been hired to identify cost reductions at a group level. More bolt-on purchases are promised, like the recent acquisition of US healthcare fund manager Tekla Capital Management.

Abrdn told FN in a statement: “Strategy is about asking questions and testing alternatives. We do that in every strategy session. We have an agreed strategic direction that we are executing against at pace. Investment management is the core of our business, and we are making it more efficient and more relevant to our clients.”

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