The man in charge of Standard Life has spoken of the uncertainty impacting on managing a global business in the wake of the vote to leave the EU, and a possible second independence referendum.
Sir Gerry Grimstone, chairman of one Scotland’s biggest and oldest companies, said the Brexit effect had yet to be fully understood, and now business faced further unknown factors with ‘Indyref2’ on the agenda.
He said Standard Life was apolitical and would remain so during the debates, but he laid clear his concerns in a speech at the Adam Smith Festival of Ideas in Kirkcaldy today.
Sir Gerry said it was ‘impossible’’ for anyone to predict what lies ahead with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU and access to the single market.
‘‘We know two years from now we will be out of the EU, but no-one knows what lies ahead after that. The uncertainty that creates is profound,’’ he said.
Sir Gerry, who is also deputy chairman of Barclays Bank, said a company the size of Standard Life, which trades globally, has to prepare for all possibilities, and that analysis starts now.
‘‘A company like this cannot change course on a sixpence,’’ he said. ‘‘We have 600,000 customers in Germany and Austria, all served from Scotland. We have to assume we can’t do that after the EU. We are preparing for this already.
And the possibility of independence for Scotland raised further uncertainty.
He said Standard Life employed 90 per cent of its workforce in Scotland, but 90 per cent of its customers were south of the border.
Sir Gerry said: ‘‘In 2014 we never told people how to vote. That isn’t the job of a business,
‘‘But it is our job to analyse the consequences – what will happen to currency, markets and regulations?
‘‘In 2014 we asked those questions and we got no answers, so we had to tell people, purely apolitically, that had Scotland voted for independence we would have had to move a large part of our operations to England.
‘‘We will ask the same questions again, and then decide what is best for our staff, our company and our shareholders.’’
Sir Gerry said the proposed merger with Aberdeen Asset would create a global company based in Edinburgh – the largest asset management company in the UK and the second biggest in Europe, with a Scottish workforce looking after 25 million customers globally.
But he added: ‘‘We cannot exist in isolation.
‘‘You cannot run a large business here without full access to your customers in the rest of the UK.
‘‘We need access to people, to technology, to markets and to customers.
‘‘It is harder now for us to encourage people to come to Scotland and work. If they have no base or family here, we are finding it harder and harder to get them to come because of the uncertainty.