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Abrdn chief executive Stephen Bird hits back over name change

Abrdn chief executive Stephen Bird hits back: Name change is start of big shake-up at FTSE100 funds giant

He has taken a battering for changing the name of FTSE100 funds giant Standard Life Aberdeen to Abrdn. 

But last night, chief executive Stephen Bird hit back, telling The Mail on Sunday that traditional fund management is ‘in decline’ – and revealing that the rebrand is part of a major strategy shift. 

The fund group, which manages £535billion, was mocked last week when it unveiled Abrdn. 

Critics joked that the name, pronounced ‘Aberdeen’, read like ‘a burden’ and looked as though it contained spelling mistakes. 

Rebrand: Chief executive Stephen Bird’s controversial new look, devised by consultants Wolff Olins

But Bird said the renaming, devised by consultants 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. 

He said: ‘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.’ 

Bird said they had expected some criticism, explaining: ‘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.’ 

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.’ 

The asset manager was formed after rivals Aberdeen and 196-yearold Standard Life struck a £11billion merger in 2017. The group sold the Standard Life name to insurance giant Phoenix in February. But like other asset managers, it has suffered from outflows as investors turn to cheap robot funds. Investors pulled out £3.1billion from Abrdn last year. 

After selling the Standard Life name, the company was left with the brand Aberdeen – but is owned by another firm. Bird said it would have been ‘insane’ to let go of the Aberdeen name. ‘So this idea of short form Abrdn, protected in digital, is the most rational way to do it.’