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Lucian Camp: Writing was on the wall for Skandia

Lucien Camp MM blog

They say that for French people, probably the single hardest word to pronounce in the English language is “Heathrow,” which is ironic considering how many of them need to ask cab drivers to take them there. (In French, it comes out as “Etrov.”)

But not far behind in difficulty is “Norwich” – and that simple fact is one of the key reasons why the well-known and long-established Norwich Union brand gave way a couple of years ago to the new and completely unknown Aviva.

My point is that in the increasingly-international world of financial services, branding decisions that can look surprising from one local-market perspective can look very different when you take an overall view – and I say this, of course, with particular reference to Skandia.

It was back in 2006 that the giant South African financial services group Old Mutual acquired Skandia, and since then the business around the world has been divided between Skandia-branded and Old Mutual-branded operations – broadly speaking, Old Mutual in Africa and America and Skandia in Europe. (The UK, I think, is the only market where both brands are used.)

In these increasingly internationalised times, doing business under two brands is expensive and inefficient and there are synergy advantages when the market-facing business brand is the same as the quoted company’s: sooner or later, a choice one way or the other always seemed likely. I suspect that once the original Scandinavian Skandia business was sold in June this year, to a group which has retained the Skandia name in that region, the writing was on the wall. And the writing read “Old Mutual.”

The Skandia brand will disappear over the next 12 to 24 months and although the brand has no great consumer franchise it is, of course, recognised as a market leader among advisers. Old Mutual is much less well known.

That is a challenge for those responsible for the transition, but all the evidence of previous rebrandings is that provided it is done well, there is no reason why anything bad should happen. Indeed, on the contrary, a rebranding can provide a useful opportunity to refresh and evolve market perceptions, which may well be timely as the firm enters the post-RDR world. Time after time in recent years, advisers have quickly taken new life and investment brands on board – not just Aviva, but also Aegon, Axa, Friends Life and BlackRock, to name just a few bigger ones.

Many of these rebrandings have also involved the disappearance of well-known and (sometimes) well-liked predecessors, and whenever this is the case, there is always some initial anxiety about loss of profile and even loss of business. But in the end, when a rebranding is handled properly, with clear communication, a high market profile and a full and thorough contact programme including all key customers, contacts, prospects and business partners, the exercise will usually add momentum to the business rather than reduce it. And memories are pretty short: a few years later, would anyone really want to bring back Equity & Law, Scottish Equitable or Mercury?

There have, of course, been a small number of legendary rebranding disasters, with the Post Office’s short-lived Consignia fiasco probably top of the list. I cannot prove this, but I suspect that hackles rise when people suspect that these are the handiwork of expensive consultants with ponytails, Shoreditch addresses and blue-framed spectacles. And no-one is going to suspect anything like that when they hear the name Old Mutual.

Lucian Camp is founder of Lucian Camp Consulting

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