Standard Life

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Standard Life was founded in Edinburgh on 23 March 1825. Worldwide, the company employs approximately 11,000 people with approximately 6,500 of those working in Edinburgh. The company manages assets in excess of £124 billion on behalf of over seven million customers.[1]


The 1800s

The Standard Life Assurance Company was established in 1825. It has its roots in the 1821 Insurance Company of Scotland whose partners formed the Life Insurance Company of Scotland four years later, with the name changed to Standard Life Assurance Company in 1832. Subsequently, agencies emerged in Canada and in Ireland with the first London Office opening in 1842.

The official website glosses over the details of Standard Life's connection to the expansion of the British Empire, for instance the 1845 formation of the Colonial Life Assurance Company was “to aid expansion overseas”. The following is a short précis of the official version.

By 1847, agencies had opened in Madras, Bombay, Uruguay and Shanghai, followed by expansion into South Africa in 1854. A period of acquisition followed: Minerva Life Assurance Company (1864), Victoria and Legal and Commercial Assurance Company (1865) and an eventual merger with Colonial Life in 1866. This encouraged further expansion into India with the first branch office in India opened in Calcutta in 1869 and Bombay (the company still operates in Mumbai) in 1876, followed by the acquisition of the India Life Assurance Company in 1877. As the century drew to a close, SL also branched out to South America with a branch opened in Montevideo in 1888. Offices opened in Brussels and Copenhagen, Christania (Oslo) and Stockholm in the 1890s. In 1895, offices opened in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.

Record and Controversies

"...these guys were God"

In an article called "Secret plot ended with blood on the carpet," The Scotsman noted that what had seemed an arcane dispute with the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the industry’s regulator, became a full-blown crisis over Standard Life’s solvency: "When the authority’s new rules were applied, it appeared that Standard Life’s capital fell from £6 billion to £2.5 billion. Such a heavy marking-down would affect the company’s ability to write new business and have a devastating impact on its ability to pay bonuses to those investing through its with-profits investment funds." [2]

This crisis precipitated the removal of Iain Lumsden, its chief executive, sacked by Sir Brian Stewart. Fred Woollard, the Australian who failed in an attempt to demutualise the company in 2000, commented in 2004 that:

"The guys running Standard Life were all well paid, had spent most, if not all, of their life in Edinburgh, went to Edinburgh schools, had nice houses and by Edinburgh standards, had enormous power and social standing. In the business, they had no accountability, they selected their own board and non-executive directors. In the world that is Edinburgh, these guys were God." [2]

Standard Life's directors have moved in mysterious ways. The Freedom of Information Act Centre (FOIA) ran a headline, "E-mail reveals Standard Life ‘smeared’ critic"[3] which told the story of Michael Hogan as he stood for election to the board. A Scottish newspaper ran an article questioning his background. The following Sunday, another newspaper went further, attacking his business background in an article headlined, "Shady loan links of Standard Life rebel."

Hogan suspected that Standard Life had a role in the appearance of these attacks. He turned to the FOIA Centre in an effort to find out the truth. As a result, Standard Life disclosed an e-mail that the group’s head of media relations, Scott White, sent on 23 February 2005 to eight other executives at the insurer and to staff at two of its law firms, Clifford Chance and Slaughter & May. It also went to Gavin Grant, the public relations executive and deputy chairman of the PR agency, Burson-Marsteller. The e-mail indicated that Standard Life was continuing to search for dirt on Hogan. Challenged about the e-mail, White told the Mail on Sunday that: "its contents had been sent to him by somebody unconnected with Standard Life who was researching Hogan's background. He said that in forwarding it to colleagues and advisers, he was merely seeking their advice." [4]

Gavin Grant

On joining Burson-Marsteller, Gavin Grant established the Company's Corporate Social Responsibility Unit. He directed the de-mutualisation and flotation of Standard Life. This was the largest flotation on the London Stock Exchange for five years. Prior to his work with Standard Life, Grant led the rescue of Equitable Life. Before joining Burson-Marsteller, Grant was Director of Global Corporate and Public Affairs for The Body Shop International reporting directly to the Company Founders, Anita and Gordon Roddick.

Grant has experience in providing communications strategy, corporate reputation management and public affairs advice to multinational companies and trade associations. His skills and experience include corporate responsibility, media relations, government relations, issues and crisis management.

He is a member of the Advisory Board of Youth Business International (YBI), part of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) and was a member of the UK Committee of the UN Year for Microfinance.

Louise Armitstead noted in The Sunday Times that it's a small world in the financial PR industry:

"Or so Standard Life has found out, having dispensed with the services of Alan Parker’s Brunswick at the turn of the year. The replacement adviser is the London end of American group Burson-Marsteller, in particular Gavin Grant, who was spin doctor to Vanni Treves at Equitable Life — not, perhaps, the kind of comparison Standard Life wants."[5]

Riding shotgun is media specialist John Shepherd, once a financial journalist on The Independent, where his business editor was David Brewerton, later a Brunswick partner — and adviser to Standard Life.

Burson-Marsteller's UK line-up has curious connections with environmental groups: Lord Peter Melchett was head of Greenpeace UK, Des Wilson was Chairman of Friends of the Earth UK, Richard Aylard was previously head of the Soil Association, which certifies organic food and campaigns against GM crops and pesticides and Grant was head of Public Affairs for The Body Shop. These affiliations came to the attention of Conal Walsh, who noted that "More and more of the country's most prominent greens are deciding that you can be high-minded and make a fortune."[6]

Standard Life claims to run ethical investment funds although this accounts for less than 1% of its business. Its UK Ethical account includes shares in Tesco, Vodafone, RBS Group, HBoS and HSBC.[7] Its ethical stock also includes holding oil company, Cairn Energy, with which it has had a long involvement. [8]

Burson-Marsteller works with Scottish Development International,[9] a joint venture between the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise. [10]

Business in the Community

Standard Life funds the Insider Elite Leader of the Year,[10] a prize awards ceremony "Scotland's business Oscars" also funded by, the Scottish Leadership Foundation, KPMG in partnership with Shepherd and Wedderburn.

Standard Life is a member of Scottish Business in the Community. SBITC claims to help companies "better understand their most significant social and environmental issues and help them develop strategy for systematically managing, measuring and reporting on how these issues are being addressed." Other companies that have taken advantage of their 'benchmarking services' include: Cable & Wireless, Nestle, Somerfield, Arriva, Lloyds of London, Powergen, Imperial Tobacco, Scottish & Southern Energy, Sodexho, BUPA and Coors Brewers. They offer a one-day programme which covers 'Defining corporate responsibility for your company; Managing responsible business; Getting internal buy-in; Meeting the demand for information – measurement and reporting.'

Companies that have taken part in the Peer Group Learning sessions include: Marks and Spencer, Camelot, Centrica, BAT, E.ON UK, EDF Energy, Imperial Tobacco, Nationwide, RWE npower and Provident Financial.

Standard Life is a member of the Industry and Parliament Trust and also a client of Citigate Public Affairs (one of the United Kingdom’s largest public affairs consultancies), Four Communications and Lansons Public Affairs.[11]

Standard Life has a significant holding in HBOS and played an influencial role in the rejection of the independence proposal of Sir George Mathewson and Sir Peter Burt. The Times reported, on 10 November 2008, that a "spokesman for Standard Life, which, with a 3.5 per cent stake, is a top-five shareholder in HBOS, said that it was looking at the proposals,"[12] while on the 21 November 2008, Mathewson and Burt abandoned their campaign.[13]


Board of Directors

  • Gerry Grimstone: Appointed Director in July 2003 and Deputy Chairman in March 2006. He holds a number of non-executive positions including Dairy Crest Group plc and the Chairmanships of Candover Investments plc and F&C Global Smaller Companies plc. According to The Scotsman, Grimstone: "... knows quite a bit about privatisations, having been at the centre of the Thatcher Government's programme of selling state assets in the Eighties. He was assistant treasury secretary, working on nationalisations and privatisations, and his work on one of the Tory Government's biggest post-war policies earned him the sobriquet of Mr Privatisation. He was involved in 20 in all, including Cable & Wireless, British Gas and BAA."[14]
  • Sandy Crombie: Appointed Director in January 2000 and Group Chief Executive in January 2004. He joined Standard Life in 1966 and was Chief Executive of Standard Life Investments Limited from its launch in 1998 until his appointment as Group Chief Executive.
  • Kent Atkinson: Appointed Director in January 2005 and is Chairman of the Audit Committee. He is also currently Senior Independent Director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of Coca-Cola HBC S.A. and Telent plc, and is a non-executive director of Gemalto N.V.
  • Norman Blackwell: Appointed Director in June 2003 and is Chairman of Standard Life Assurance Limited. He is Chairman of Interserve plc, Senior Independent Director of Slough Estates plc and a Board Member of the Office of Fair Trading. He is also a special adviser to KPMG’s Corporate Finance Practice, Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies and an active member of the House of Lords.
  • Colin Buchan: Appointed Director in January 2008. He was appointed Chairman of Standard Life Investments Limited in May 2008, having been a director since 2002. He is currently a non-executive director of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, Black Rock World Mining Trust plc and Wood Mackenzie Limited. He was formerly Global Head of Equities at UBS Warburg and a member of the group management board of UBS AG.
  • Crawford Gillies: Appointed Director in January 2007. He spent twenty-two years with Bain & Company Inc., the international management consultants, and has been retained by Bain as a special adviser. He is an independent member of the DTI's Management Board and Strategy Board, and has chaired the DTI's Audit and Risk Committee since 2003.
  • Baroness McDonagh: Appointed Director in March 2007. She is a business consultant, having previously been General Manager of Express Newspapers. She was appointed a Life Peer in 2004. From 1998 to 2001, she was both the first woman and the youngest General Secretary of the Labour Party. She has been a non-executive director of TBI plc since 2004 and became a non-executive director of Care Capital Group plc in 2008.
  • David Nish: Appointed Director in October 2006 and is currently the Group Finance Director. He previously held the role of Group Finance Director at Scottish Power plc and is also currently a non-executive director of Northern Foods plc.
  • Jocelyn Proteau: Appointed Director in August 2003 and is Chairman of SLCC. He has worked for much of his career in the mutual sector of the Canadian financial services industry. He holds a number of non-executive positions and is Chairman of Technologies 20/20 Inc. and Capital ABTB Inc.
  • Keith Skeoch: Appointed Director in March 2006. He is Chief Executive of Standard Life Investments. He joined Standard Life Investments in 1999 after nearly 20 years’ investment experience at James Capel & Co. Limited in a number of roles, including Chief Economist and Managing Director International Equities.

Former Directors

  • Sir Brian Stewart : Appointed Director in April 1993 and Chairman in July 2003. He is also Chairman of Scottish & Newcastle plc. He began his career as a financial analyst at S&N in 1976 and was appointed to their Board in 1988. He is also Vice President of the British Beer & Pub Association. The City's 'Higgs code' of corporate governance stresses that no single person should chair two FTSE 100-listed companies.[15] Stewart told The Daily Telegraph: "'It is comply or explain,' he says. 'But I don't believe that Derek Higgs [architect of the current rules] meant it to be anything else. He wanted it to be best for the company at particular times. Brian Stewart might be right for this company at certain periods in its evolution and might not be at another. That's life.'"[16]
Stewart admits that there is more explanation needed concerning the likely flotation of Standard Life that has presented both himself and Sandy Crombie with some linguistic gymnastics to perform after they both opposed flotation when it was last considered in 2000.[16] It was reported in 2003 that "Stewart saw his Scottish & Newcastle salary nudge £1m last year, despite the value of the brewer sliding by more than one third."[17]
  • John Hylands: Elected Director in April 2002. He joined the Standard Life Group in 1979 and was Group Finance Director between December 2001 and June 2005. Previously he was General Manager (Marketing) between 1994 and 2001. He led the de-mutualisation programme.
  • Trevor Matthews: Appointed Director in July 2004. He joined the Standard Life Group in July 2004 and is currently Chief Executive of Standard Life Assurance Limited. He previously held the role of President and Chief Executive Officer of Manulife in Japan and prior to that was the Executive Vice President of Manulife’s Canadian operations. Matthews gained some renown for his "nigger in the woodpile" remark, which somewhat distracted from an already escalating dispute over the proposal to replace final salary pensions at the company with a career-average pension, regarded as inferior but a move crucial to the future of the company and its 7,000 employees. [18][19]
  • Alison Mitchell: Appointed Director in December 2000. She is a well-known UK personal finance journalist, having presented BBC Radio 4’s ‘Moneybox’ programme for many years and been a financial presenter of BBC TV’s ‘Breakfast Time’ and ITV’s Budget programmes. She has written several popular financial books.
  • Hugh Stevenson: Appointed Director in June 1999 and is the Company's Senior Independent Director and Chairman of Standard Life Investments. He is Chairman of Equitas Limited and The Merchants Trust plc, and is also a non-executive director of the Financial Services Authority. From 1992 to 1998, he was Chairman of Mercury Asset Management Group plc.
  • Jean-Claude Delorme QC: Standard Life’s deputy chairman.
  • The Hon Roy MacLaren: UK’s former High Commissioner for Canada.
  • Sir Nicholas Monck KCB: Former Permanent Secretary to the Employment Department and Second Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.
  • Giles Henderson: Former senior partner of City law firm Slaughter & May.
  • David Newlands: Former finance director of General Electric Company.

Revolving Door

  • U.K. Life Peer Norman Blackwell, Lord Backwell of Woodcote, was appointed a Non-executive Director of Standard Life Assurance in 2003.[20]
  • U.K. Life Peer Mervyn Davies, Lord Davies of Abersoch, Minister for Trade and Investment at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, was Chairman of Standard from 2006 to 2009.[21]
  • Gerry Grimstone, Chairman of the board since May 2007, was appointed as one of the UK’s Business Ambassadors by the Prime Minister in January 2009.[22]
  • U.K. Life Peer Margaret McDonagh, Baroness McDonagh of Mitcham and Morden was appointed a Director of Standard Life Plc in 2007.[23]


  • European Public Affairs Consultants Association, member.
  • Standard Life fund the David Hume Institute (DHI), including their 09 February 2006 "The appropriate role of Government in the provision of pensions; some insights drawn from the Second Report of the Pensions Commission"; and the publication of Hume Lecture "The European Union and the Nation State." The DHI was also used for Cairn Energy's presidential address in 2003. The DHI has also published ERSC-funded research on 'The Simultaneous Fall and Rise of Mutuality'; and other related subjects such as the financial markets in relation to regulation, globalisation and so on. In a 'Trust and Integrity: Principles and Practice' seminar of March 2006, held at the Signet Library, Parliament Square, Edinburgh, and organised jointly with the Securities and Investment Institute (SII) and the DHI, the speakers were Lord Eddie George (former Governor of the Bank of England) and Standard Life's Sandy Crombie. The event maintained that The Guild of International Bankers, 'prompted by the past Master, Lord George, has developed a set of Principles of Behavior for its membership'. Crombie discussed how effective the SII's Principles were in business and their applicability to Standard Life - "at a time when Standard Life is preparing for its flotation this coming summer." The DHI press release states that an "extract from press release in the Scotsman" read:
"It is Sandy Crombie's steadfast belief that the principles of trust and integrity have to be central to any business and to its dealings at all levels, internally and externally."[24]
The Scotsman attributes this to a Standard Life spokesman.[25] This sort of confusion is understandable given the close-knit connections of business-funded think tanks. Even the venue itself, the Signet Library ('an outstanding venue for corporate or private events'),[26] which is owned by The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet Trust (known as the WS Society (an 'independent membership body for lawyers') and Principles and Practice (if not integrity) would lead us to note that the DHI and Standard Life have a close proximity to those who maintain legal probity in the Scottish Executive.
The Firm magazine reported in 2007 that the WS Society had unveiled its Accreditation board members:
• The Rt Hon Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, retired Lord President of the Court of Session
Jeremy Peat, BBC Trustee for Scotland, and Director, David Hume Institute
Malcolm Wood, WS, General Counsel and Secretary, Standard Life plc
• Professor Kenneth Reid, WS, Professor of Property Law, University of Edinburgh
Kaliani Lyle, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Scotland
Richard Henderson, WS, Solicitor to the Scottish Executive, Office of the Solicitor to the Scottish Executive
• Professor David Rowley, Director of Education, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Head of Department, Faculty of Medicine, University of Dundee [27]


Revolving Door.jpg This article is part of the Revolving Door project of Spinwatch.



  1. Talent Scotland, Insurance and Pensions in Scotland, accessed 28 April 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dey, Iain, Martin Flanagan and Sharon Ward, "Secret plot ended with blood on the carpet," The Scotsman, 17 January, 2004, accessed 06 February 2011.
  3. FOIA Centre, "E-mail reveals Standard Life ‘smeared’ critic," 25 February 2006, accessed 06 February 2011.
  4. Dyson, Richard, "Is Standard Life fighting fair?," Mail on Sunday, 29 January 2006, accessed 06 February 2011.
  5. Armitstead, Louise, "Prufrock: Non-standard PR advice," The Sunday Times, 20 February 2005, accessed 06 February 2011.
  6. Walsh, Conal, "The greens who took the corporate shilling," The Observer, 02 February 2003, accessed 06 February 2011.
  7. See section on Mark Moody-Stuart for HSBC's activities.
  8. Corporate Watch, "Bringing the G8 home: Corporate involvement in and around the G8 2005 in Scotland," May 2005, accessed 06 February 2011.
  9. FONAR, "The Economist celebrates innovation at the 2nd Annual Innovation Awards and Summit in San Francisco," Press Release, 23 September 2003, accessed 06 February 2011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Insider, Insider Elite Leadership Awards: Event Profile and Leadership Lecturer, Web Archive 14 April 2007, accessed 06 February 2011.
  11. APPC, APPC Client List 2006/07, accessed 28 April 2009.
  12. Leroux, Marcus, and Angus Macleod, "Scottish banking grandees deride HBOS leadership and set out plan to take control," The Times, 10 November 2008, accessed 06 February 2011.
  13. Hosking, Patrick, "HBOS: Scots knights Sir Peter Burt and Sir George Mathewson admit defeat," The Times, 21 November 2008, accessed 28 April 2009.
  14. Murden, Terry, "A question of trust," Scotsman, 02 March 2008, accessed 06 February 2011.
  15. Bowker, John, "Stewart facing tug-o-war over double chair," Scotsman, 10 January 2006, accessed 06 February 2011.
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Telegraph, "Two chairs but cards firmly on the table," 10 April 2006, accessed 06 February 2011.
  17. Mesure, Susie, "S&N chairman drinks to £190,000 bonus," The Independent, 26 July 2003, accessed 06 February 2011.
  18. Murden, Terry, "'Running for cover'," Scotsman, 28 January 2007, accessed 28 April 2009.
  19. Standard Life argued that it has no alternative and that its prospectus included a commitment to "manage its ongoing liability". Staff and union representatives accused the group of deliberately concealing the proposed change in a brief statement buried in the depths of its extensive flotation documents — a charge refuted by the company, which says it was not possible to provide details at that stage.
  20. Who's Who 2009, BLACKWELL, online edition, Oxford University Press, accessed 24 March 2009.
  21. Treanor, Jill, "Profile: trade minister Mervyn Davies," Guardian, 14 January 2009, accessed 06 February 2011.
  22. Standard Life, About Standard Life > Board of Directors, accessed 19 March 2009.
  23. Who's Who 2009, McDONAGH, online edition, Oxford University Press, accessed 24 March 2009.
  24. David Hume Institute, "Trust and Integrity: Principles and Practice," 14 March 2006, accessed 28 April 2009.
  25. Flanagan, Martin, "George, Crombie to spearhead ethics debate in Scotland," Scotsman, 12 January 2006, Web Archive 27 May 2006, accessed 28 April 2009.
  26. The Signet Library, Welcome to The Signet Events, accessed 28 April 2009.
  27. The Firm, "WS Society unveils Accreditation board members," Web Archive 10 February 2007, accessed 28 April 2009.