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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kalyeena Makortoff

Mocking the Abrdn name is ‘corporate bullying’, says chief investment officer

Abrdn logo and stacked coins
Abrdn, formerly Standard Life Aberdeen, paid an undisclosed sum to rebranding agency Wolff Olins for its new identity with missing vowels. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

It is a global company with more than two centuries of managing money but for Abrdn jokes in the media about the lack of vowels in its name is no laughing matter.

After changing its name three years ago, an executive at the fund manager formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen has accused the media of “corporate bullying” that would not be acceptable if the business was a person.

Chief investment officer Peter Branner pointed a finger at the press, which he said continued to make “childish jokes” about the name change.

“I understand that corporate bullying to some extent is part of the game with the press, even though it’s a little childish to keep hammering the missing vowels in our name,” he said in an interview with the trade magazine Financial News.

“Would you do that with an individual? How would you look at a person who makes fun of your name day-in day-out? It’s probably not ethical to do it. But apparently with companies it is different,” he added.

Unlike individuals who rarely choose their own names, Abrdn paid an undisclosed sum to branding agency Wolff Olins before settling on its new identity in one of the most divisive corporate rebrands in recent memory.

The company, formed by the £3.8bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017, was pushed to rebrand after selling its UK and European life insurance business, as well as its Standard Life brand name, to Phoenix Group.

The change prompted immediate criticism of the asset manager’s “ill-thought-out” decision to drop its vowels, which is a strategy more typically employed by TikTok stars and YouTubers such as the Strictly Come Dancing star Hrvy.

Sources said the company rejected using “Aberdeen”, because it would not have been able to control the intellectual property rights for the name of an existing city.

Instead, it settled on Abrdn in the spring of 2021, prompting scorn from City analysts, linguists and the press, who joked the company was experiencing “irritable vowel syndrome”, and was trying to be “too cool for schl”, and that the decision was “rlly stpd”.

Chief executive Stephen Bird – who has been jokingly referred to as Stphn Brd – has since defended the change, and claimed clients had “fully embraced it”.

An Abrdn spokesperson said: ‘‘As Peter made clear in his interview, we appreciate it is for the media to make their own assessments about the companies they wish to write about.”

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