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Traditional names are lost in the Scots mist

There was a time when to have the word Scottish in a life company&#39s branding meant a distinct advantage, conjuring up images of conservatism and probity when it came to money.

But life companies are now ditching or diminishing their Scottish branding.

Scottish Equitable looks as though it could become the next in line to ditch its Scottish heritage. Parent company Aegon UK is understood to be concerned about consumer recognition of its brand and possible connections with stricken Equitable Life although it says the distressed and confused phone calls over the latter have long since subsided.

The move would make ScotEq the latest life office to distance itself from its ancestral home. Scottish Life&#39s brand is under review by Royal London and Scottish Mutual and Scottish Provident have become sub-brands of Abbey National for Intermediaries.

CP121 might have been diluted but life companies are increasingly focusing on direct sales, particularly following Ron Sandler&#39s review.

Prudential last year axed the Scottish Amicable brand after buying the company in 1997. Spokesman Darragh Leeson says the argument was overwhelming because of consumer recognition, the strength of the Pru brand and the need to seek economies of scale.

But what about the tradition that to have Scottish in your name gave an immediate marketing advantage?

Scottish Life head of communications Alasdair Buchanan says: “The question is whether this benefit is outweighed by other considerations.”

Scottish Financial Enterprise, set up by financial companies north of the border, has not conducted research into Scottish branding but chief executive Ray Perman says both Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland have done research and found it is an advantage to have Scotland in their name. The connotations of Scottishness are reliability, canniness with money and probity.

But some Scottish life company figures are cynical about the effects of having Scottish in branding. For them, it carries association of parochialism or, worse, being bad at football.

Ad agency CCHM chairman Lucian Camp says if you were to have a totally neutral name for a company, it would be Scottish Extravagant.

Camp points out that if other companies do abandon their Scottish moniker, then Scottish Widows will have Scottishness all to itself. He describes it as a peculiar and ridiculous brand but, like many others, admits it is very effective.

Perman points out that when Lloyds bought Scottish Widows, there was no question of losing the branding, with some saying the branding may be the company&#39s strongest card.

Widows head of advertising Kevin Syme says: “The Scottish heritage is part of the brand and not something we would throw away cheaply. We do not play on it hard and have not gone out of our way to emphasise Scottishness.”

He believes the benefits of the association are more subliminal. Similarly, Zurich Financial Services believes the Swiss connection gives it beneficial connotations, for financial services at least.

Widows was the first of the life companies in Scotland – founded in 1815. Others followed, such as Scottish Equitable in 1831 in deliberate imitation of Equitable Life. Many of the Scottish societies were founded by Protestants, the so-called “provident” societies. Often, membership was dependent on adherence to religious criteria. For instance, Scottish Mutual required policyholders to be teetotal.

The Scottish companies were for the most part mutuals and this helped them avoid financial scandals which beset rivals south of the border, establishing the good reputation which has endured.

Standard Life does little to promote itself as Scottish, except for perhaps the presence of Scottish football international Alan Hansen in its TV ads. However, Perman says the core values of the company are ones that would be recognised as Scottish all over the world.

Outside the UK, Scottishness continues to have con-siderable snob appeal, something not lost on the purveyors of offshore products. Scottish Equitable International is simply known as “la Scottish” by its French and Italian-speaking policyholders.

Companies might be taking the Scottish out of their name but Perman says there is no sign of them taking jobs out of Scotland. Financial services companies employ about 100,000 people in Scotland and another 100,000 jobs are indirectly dependent on the industry. The sector has grown by 50 per cent over the last five years to account for 12 per cent of GDP, a faster rate of growth than south of the border.

Independent Financial Services director Jim Gillespie says: “As a salesman, I find it much easier to get a client to deal with a company they have heard of.”

He adds that while he can understand why a company would want to amalgamate smaller brands under a single corporate identity, it is a shame to lose some household names.

But this could be a temporary blip. Perman says: “These things go in fashions – in 10 years time, it will probably be the trend to return to the Scottish names.”

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