By Scott Wright

KEITH Skeoch backed Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis in a position of strength as he expanded on his reasons for leaving the top job at the institution.

Mr Skeoch will stand down as chief executive of the investment giant after five years in the role and 40 years as a financial services executive when he is replaced by Stephen Bird, who joins after a 21-year career with Citigroup.

The change comes around three years after Mr Skeoch and fellow investment heavyweight Martin Gilbert brokered the £11 billion merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management. The deal underlined Standard Life’s transformation from life and pensions business into active fund manager. It now has around £545 billion of funds under management.

Mr Gilbert departed SLA earlier this year after a spell as vice-chairman, having initially run the enlarged firm as co-chief executive with Mr Skeoch.

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Speaking to The Herald, Mr Skeoch said it felt like “an appropriate time” to step down as he will be 64 in November and will shortly have completed five years in post and 14 as a director of the company.

And he said the “last year to 18 months had seen the investment performance turn” at SLA, following a turbulent spell of net outflows, adding that there is a “feeling of momentum around the place.”

Mr Skeoch said: “Standard Life is 195 years old. It has seen a lot of change and weathered a lot of storms. It came out the financial crisis in much better shape and I am sure it will come out of the pandemic in pretty strong shape as well.”

He added: “We have made a lot of progress... in making sure that the business has really strong foundations in place. That was tested by the Covid crisis, which we have come out really well.”

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Expressing the view that leading SLA through the challenges markets and the economy will face in the aftermath of Covid-19 will be a “three to five year job”, he noted: “[I will be] 64 in November, and I am not going to be around for between three to five years”.

Mr Skeoch described Mr Bird as a “great guy” who is “very focused on [the] consumer” and “knows an awful lot about digital – that is going to be really important going forward.”

He added that even “as a proud Englishman he couldn’t be more delighted that he (Mr Bird) was Edinburgh-based.”

Mr Bird was most recently chief executive of global consumer banking at Citigroup, a role he held between 2015 and November last year, and before then led its Asia Pacific business.

After handing over to Mr Bird, who joins SLA as chief-executive designate today, Mr Skeoch will serve out the remainder of his contract as non-executive chairman of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Research Institute. Mr Skeoch said this would allow him to “return to his first professional love, which is economics and markets”.

Reflecting on his time with Standard Life and SLA, he said highlights include working with former chief executive Sandy Crombie on its stock market flotation in 2006, which prefaced its transformation from “capital-heavy insurance company to a much more modern investment and savings company”. He also highlighted the growth of the Standard Life Investments business, which he led, his appointment as chief executive, and the merger with Aberdeen Asset Management.

SLA chairman Sir Douglas Flint said: “The transition from Keith Skeoch was always going to be a challenge to deliver, given the incredible scale and range of his contributions to the success of the company over many years.

“I am however extremely pleased to say we have found a truly worthy successor. “

Mr Bird said: “I am delighted to be joining Standard Life Aberdeen as its next chief executive. This is a company with a great history, a strong brand, and an exciting future. “