Global merger could boost U.S. HQ in Philly

A Philadelphia investment-company headquarters could gain new importance in the merger of two Scotland-based global investment houses, Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life, once the cost-cutting is done.

Aberdeen, with $374 billion in assets (including $65 billion in the United States), and Standard, with $329 billion ($15 billion U.S.), said this morning they were combining operations, under Aberdeen founder Martin Gilbert and Standard Life boss Keith Skeoch as co-CEOs.  Update: Standard Life is paying Aberdeen shareholders around $4.7 billion; each company gets half the board seats. More on Gilbert, Skeoch and the deal from Bloomberg here.

"The deal will create one of the largest active-asset managers globally" and save more than $240 million a year by closing duplicate trading desks and consolidating back offices, travel, and other expenses, investment-company analyst Gurit S. Kambo told clients at European brokerage JPMorgan Cazenove in a report. 

Aberdeen's U.S. headquarters and 250 professionals are based on Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, where the company moved people it acquired when it took over the West Conshohocken fixed-income desk of the former Miller Anderson & Sherrerd from Deutsche Bank in 2005, and Paul Hondros' former Miquon-based fund group from Nationwide Insurance in 2007. 

Standard Life has a smaller U.S. trading desk and offices, in Boston, employing around 100. Both companies have marketing centers in New York and a few other U.S. centers. Aberdeen spokeswoman Katie Cowley declined to comment on specific plans.

While Vanguard Group of Malvern is the largest and best-known Philadelphia-area investment company, with around $4 trillion in indexed bond and stock funds and other customer assets, Aberdeen's $65 billion U.S. operation ranks among the largest "traditional active" money managers based in Philadelphia, once a center of the U.S. investment business, said Jonathan M. Heckscher, senior vice president at Pennsylvania Trust Co. in Radnor.

UPDATE: At least one is bigger: Macquarie Group's Delaware Investments, based in Philadelphia, with 514 local employees, had $167 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2016, notes spokeswoman Sarah Lazarus. 

An enlarged Aberdeen should help revive Philadelphia investing, Heckscher added, reversing a trend: "Over the past 25 years, we have seen plenty of great talent leave for New York and Boston."  

With weak U.S. stock and bond returns in the 2000s and early 2010s, traditional "active" stock- and bond-pickers such as the ones at Aberdeen and Standard Life have faced tough competition from low-fee, autopiloted index funds sold by Vanguard, BlackRock, Barclays, Fidelity, and a growing list of rivals.

Last year, Aberdeen came close to selling a $4 billion-asset Philadelphia-based bond investment team to Tri-State Bank of Pittsburgh. The deal was canceled and four Aberdeen managers left the firm.

In 2010, Aberdeen bailed out the Dad Vail Regatta, the popular Schuylkill rowing race. But in 2016 the company stepped back and is no longer the event's name sponsor.

(This story has been corrected and updated to note Delaware Investments' headcount and assets under management, also in Center City Philadelphia, are larger than Aberdeen's.)