The 124-year-old Alliance Trust is turning the tables on critics who saw it as behind the times, challenging rivals to catch up with its "trust and transparency" business model.

When the Dundee-based organisation came under attack from activist investor Laxey Partners last year, it had to defend the performance not only of the £2 billion trust but also of its two subsidiaries, Alliance Trust Savings and Alliance Trust Investments.

Laxey's prodding put the spotlight on cumulative losses of £33 million in ATS and £7m in ATI, and suggested that investors were effectively paying an extra 0.5% charge on top of the trust's closely watched total expense ratio of 0.7%.

Alliance, led by the FT-350's only all-female chief executive and chairwoman duo of Katherine Garrett-Cox and Karin Forseke, saw off the two-year campaign after Laxey's resolutions won only 20% support at the annual meeting in April.

Ms Forseke dismissed Laxey's call for the dividend to be trebled and the trust's management outsourced to Aberdeen Asset Management, which had not been shy in coming forward, saying it was "not the time to disband the team that has started to deliver".

Now the smoke signals from Dundee are that both businesses are well on the way to becoming assets that could add rather than subtract value, and make Alliance Trust a more attractive investment.

The £150m ATI has been stripped down from six funds to three, with the loss of eight fund managers and a £2m cost saving, after chief executive Ms Garrett-Cox abandoned the attempt to build a position in Asian, Japanese and UK equity investment.

"We gave it three years," she said last week. "Most investors opted to move cash into our global thematic, monthly income bond and Europe and US funds."

A streamlined operation in London, alongside the new sustainable investment team running £1.2bn in partnership with Aviva, was an attractive platform for building third-party assets, she suggested. ATS is set to move into profit later this year for the first time since 2005.

"Our prices have gone up but we are still cheapest," the chief executive said.

Set up as an online platform to encourage ultra low-cost investment into Alliance Trust and cheap access to other investments, ATS has attracted more than 60,000 customers but fewer than half of them are share- holders in the trust.

However, the reforms now sweeping across the financial product market will make pricing of both advice and platforms transparent for the first time, and are ideally suited both to ATS and the trust itself.

"The two big words are trust and transparency," Ms Garrett-Cox said. "We have got to practise what we preach and we are lucky to have 'trust' as part of our name."

Ms Forseke said: "It is those businesses who are prepared to think radically about how to look after their customers who will win."

ATS has been at the forefront of highlighting how investment managers usually pay to have their funds showcased on other platforms, adding perhaps 0.75% to investment costs, whereas market leader Hargreaves Lansdown has been seen as resisting the regulatory pressure for transparent pricing.

Ms Garrett-Cox said many ATS competitors "may have to review their business models".

Meanwhile, the trust has been hauling itself back up the performance league. Ms Garrett-Cox is at last able to boast that it is "above average" in the global growth investment trust sector over one to five years, and says it shows the trust's performance reliability is returning to "what it was like in the mid-1980s".

However, its investment style, criticised in the past as being "closet tracker", has now caught up with the times, with stocks being halved from 200 to just 105 in the past three months, yield being sought from overseas, and "more interesting" opportunities in the mid-market being hunted.

"We have sold out of a few less liquid stocks in less liquid markets and are putting more money into markets we really believe in," she said. Latterly that means the US rather than emerging markets.

That in turn means Alliance Trust ought to attract attention on all the investment platforms in the new consumer world, where investment trusts will, for the first time, compete for advisers' attention on a level playing-field with commission-free open-ended funds.

Ms Garrett-Cox said: "We should benefit from any incremental business the investment trust sector as a whole sees, and as the biggest and most liquid global growth trust we will gain our share of the interest."

The top team insists that Alliance's centre of gravity will always be Dundee, where it employs 250 against 20 in London, but says the Edinburgh office is a competitive advantage, enabling it to attract big company chiefs to its door rather than chase after them in a City forum.

Among so few major independent Scottish players in the key financial sector, Alliance's insistence that "our reputation is growing while others are in defence mode" is reassuring.