February 15, 2019 / 3:42 PM / 5 months ago

Standard Life Aberdeen preps for job cuts: sources

LONDON/EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA.L) (SLA) plans a fresh round of job cuts in the coming weeks as part of a broader cost overhaul aimed at shoring up investor confidence after a year of heavy outflows of client cash, four sources told Reuters.

Britain’s biggest standalone asset manager saw more than 20 billion euros yanked from its funds in 2018, industry tracker Morningstar estimates, amid broad market turmoil at the end of the year that is set to weigh on revenue when the company posts full-year results on March 13.

The job cuts come weeks after the January arrival of former HSBC chairman and industry heavyweight Douglas Flint to lead the board, under investor pressure to boost returns and resolve long-standing concerns around the company’s co-CEO structure.

A spokesman for SLA said any layoffs would be part of those flagged after the 2017 merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management, when the company said it planned to trim the then 9,000 strong workforce by around 800 over three years.

That target has not changed despite the subsequent exit of 3,000 staff through the sale of SLA’s insurance business to Phoenix Group in September, the spokesman said.

Consultations with staff are now underway again, with losses of up to 10 percent expected in some departments including sales and, potentially, investment teams including those in equities, one source said.

“There’s a whole new round of cuts just started. A number of departments that went through restructuring and a consultation process, with job cuts, are having to do it all over again,” the source said.

Consultants PwC have also been running the slide rule over SLA’s operational footprint, two sources said.

“The integration (post-merger) is done but they are not going to get to a point where they say, ‘that’s fine, it’s over’. The pressure on costs is permanent. There are outflows and they have to be thinking whether that is sustainable,” one said.

The SLA spokesman confirmed Stephanie Bruce, Head of Financial Services for Assurance at PwC in the UK, had been seconded to the company from April last year to advise during and after the Phoenix deal, but was not advising on job cuts.

As part of shrinking its cost base, one of Scotland’s biggest financial companies and a major employer in Edinburgh has also ditched plans to take over a prime office building in the city at 10 George Street, two sources said.

SLA had originally pre-let the office on a 15-year lease, but instead had appointed agents JLL and EYCO to assign the lease to others, ahead of a planned refurbishment in June, a source said.

The SLA spokesman confirmed the company no longer planned to take up the offices and would instead rent them out.

OUTFLOWS

While front-line investment teams at SLA largely escaped the initial post-merger cuts, pressure to trim high-earning fund managers has increased after heavy outflows from its flagship absolute return fund, GARS, and equities.

Morningstar estimates total outflows in 2018 of 21 billion euros, with GARS accounting for more than 14 billion euros of that total and around two-thirds of SLA’s more than 200 funds losing assets.

“Outflows accelerated in the second half of the year, continuing a downtrend that began around three years ago,” Morningstar manager research analyst Francesco Paganelli said.

“Like many other large active asset managers, SLA is under pressure particularly in traditional long-only asset classes, where low-cost index funds and ETFs continue to gain market share.”

($1 = 0.7736 pounds)

Editing by David Evans

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