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F&C vs Schroders: A tale of two asset managers

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Yesterday, it was announced that F&C Asset Management, one of the oldest names in the City of London, was set to lose just under one-fifth of its assets under management – due to the defection of a single client.

Friends Life, the UK’s largest insurance group, had placed £14.5bn (€17.3bn) worth of assets with F&C in equity, multi-asset and fixed income mandates. However, under what it referred to as a “governance review”, it is now thinking to shift £2.3bn of fixed income investments to its own investment arm. For F&C, the bigger sting in the tail is what Friends Life plans to do with its equity mandates.

Schroders, one of the UK’s largest asset managers – and one that has been growing in recent years – picked up £12.2bn worth of Friends Life assets, at F&C’s expense, in a single swoop, with the FTSE 100 manager’s superior performance over the previous years cited as the reason.

The story has become something of a Dickensian tale of two asset managers. Even a cursory search online makes plain the significant difficulties F&C has faced in recent years.

F&C stands to lose 17% of its assets under management thanks to Friends Life’s decision, but the insurer already pulled a further £6.2bn from the manager in 2012. Combined with this, F&C’s overall assets have also suffered, down by 14% over 2013 to just £85bn by last December. Even back in 2011, the firm was stung by large outflows, losing £7.2bn in assets as investors began to withdraw funds, while a Portuguese pension scheme BCP terminated its mandate.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all of this led to Bank of Montreal’s £700m bid for F&C earlier this year. The deal was expected to be completed in May, after an activist shareholder, who took control in early 2011, failed to turn the business around. While it is yet unknown exactly what impact this most recent outflow will have on the outcome of that deal, it is worth noting that Friends Life says the possible change in ownership had no bearing on its decision.

For Schroders, things are definitely on the up. The manager recently broke into the FTSE 100 and has seen positive flows across several parts of its business. Well established among retail investors, its pension scheme institutional business also has some history on it side. What is most impressive is its insurance asset management arm – and, at just seven years old, the insurance business now has a £12.2bn single mandate to its name.

It is safe to say the champagne glasses will be clinking at Schroders HQ. What they’re drinking at F&C, or Bank of Montreal, is anyone’s guess. 

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