Asset managers are prepared for a hard Brexit, says chief of Aberdeen Standard Investments

Key Points
  • The asset management industry is well prepared to handle the United Kingdom's looming departure from the European Union, with or without a deal, Martin Gilbert, chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments, told CNBC.
  • The industry's always been structured such that most companies had Luxembourg as their main operations in Europe, Gilbert said.
  • The U.K. is set to leave the EU on October 31 but a deal has yet to be reached.
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Financial services are well prepared for Brexit: Aberdeen Standard Investments

The asset management industry is well-prepared to handle the United Kingdom's looming departure from the European Union — with or without a deal, according to the chairman of a major British investment firm.

Britain is set to leave the EU on October 31 but a deal has yet to be reached. The prospect of the U.K. leaving without a deal in place, referred to as a "hard Brexit," is seen as economically damaging by many.

"We've prepared for the hard Brexit, although we would prefer an easier Brexit," Martin Gilbert, chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments, told CNBC's Amanda Drury at the Singapore Summit. "But the asset management industry is well prepared."

It has always been structured such that most companies had Luxembourg as their main operations in Europe, Gilbert said. "In the funds business, we always had Luxembourg and London, so, we really didn't have to change anything at all."

I definitely think that we will still be talking about aspects of the trade war this time next year ... I still think this is bigger than just selling U.S. grains into China. I think it's also a technology war.
Martin Gilbert
chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments

Earlier this year, Gilbert told CNBC there was a 60% chance of a hard Brexit.

"I think there is an overwhelming opinion that the decision (to leave the EU) is made, we just really need to deliver it," he said on Saturday in Singapore. "And certainly, from (a) businesses point of view, we just want something to happen and just get the uncertainty over."

Financial businesses 'well prepared'

In fact, Gilbert added, the financial services industry as a whole is also "very well prepared for Brexit" and companies have already set up European subsidiaries and are ready to move their employees, if required. So far, the number of people being moved around is "very, very small," he added.

Aberdeen Standard Investments was created in 2017 from the merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management. The company manages $669.1 billion of assets as of June 30, 2019, which it says makes it the largest active manager in the U.K. and one of the largest in Europe.

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Here's what could happen next with Brexit

One key sticking point in the Brexit talks with the EU has been the Irish backstop — the soft border that separates the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

According to Gilbert, there are signs that Europe may now be "much more conciliatory towards the negotiation" as both sides attempt to find a solution to the Irish backstop issue.

US-China trade war

On the global front, Gilbert weighed in on the uncertainty caused by the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and said the issues facing the two countries go deeper than just President Donald Trump, who has blamed China for unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft.

Both sides have engaged in a trade war since early 2018 and have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of each other's imports that have roiled global markets and dampened growth outlook worldwide.

"I definitely think that we will still be talking about aspects of the trade war this time next year," Gilbert said. "There may be some small parts of it resolved, whatever, but I still think this is bigger than just selling U.S. grains into China. I think it's also a technology war."