UK insurance group Scottish Widows is in a contractual standoff with Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) over its decision to withdraw mandates worth £109bn (€124bn) from Europe’s fifth-largest institutional fund manager.

SLA has challenged Scottish Widows’ right to terminate the investment management agreements (IMAs) on the basis that the merger between Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life, which completed last year, meant that the combined company was now in direct competition with the Lloyds Banking Group subsidiary.

In a statement to the City this morning, SLA said it did not agree that, following the merger, it was in “material competition in the UK with [Lloyds Banking Group] and that, therefore, SLA does not consider that [Lloyds], Scottish Widows or their respective affiliates has the right to terminate the IMAs”.

However, a spokesperson for Scottish Widows and its parent, Lloyds Banking Group, said the comments made this morning by SLA were disappointing, “particularly in the light of our position as a major customer”.

It claimed that SLA was “a clear and material competitor of Scottish Widows and Lloyds Banking Group in the UK”.

“To suggest otherwise is not credible,” the spokesperson added.

The funds’ mandates were due to expire in March 2022 regardless of the merger deal.

“We are confident of our legal position and that our actions are in the best interests of our customers,” the Scottish Widows spokesperson said. “We are therefore surprised at the course of action pursued by Standard Life Aberdeen.”

Scottish Widows made the decision to withdraw the mandates in February this year, after Aberdeen – which has run the money since buying Scottish Widows’ investment business in 2014 – merged with Standard Life. 

The combined entity sold Standard Life’s insurance business to Phoenix Group in the same month.

At the time, Lloyds said: “Aberdeen has delivered good service and performance and Scottish Widows and [Lloyds] would welcome their participation in the review if Standard Life Aberdeen is able to resolve the competition issue.”

SLA said that the move would slash £40m from its 2017 results.

“However, revenues from these assets represent less than 5% of our full year 2017 pro forma fee-based revenue,” said Bill Rattray, chief financial officer of SLA, in its 2017 annual report. The failure to reach an agreement with Lloyds Banking Group was “disappointing”, the report noted at the time.

IPE’s annual list of the Top 400 Asset Managers showed that the merger between Standard Life and Aberdeen meant SLA managed €393.8bn of European institutional money, and €678.2bn globally (from figures for each company at the end of 2016), making the company Europe’s fifth-largest institutional manager and the world’s 24th-largest asset manager.