This is not meant to be a cheap barb - quite the contrary - but it is a question which sums up a branding conundrum.
Skandia has an enviable industry reputation in the UK among financial intemediaries.
However, these days it is also just part of a much bigger, global idea - Old Mutual and all it wants to be - which raises the prospect the Skandia brand needs to be put in such a perspective.
Like General Motors in the automobile manufacturing industry, Skandia's parent Old Mutual must be mulling over the cost value of retaining the Skandia brand in the UK market, when OM is seeking to imprint a single set of values across all its business lines and all the markets in which it operates, and hopes to operate in future.
In GM's case, the Vauxhall brand is a nice throwback to the era of automobile construction during the Edwardian era, but holds a stronger position in the UK - but with it higher costs in terms of branding - as the rest of Europe is quite happy to line up behind the Opel badge. This is stranger still considering how another of The General's brands, Saab, is used unaltered on a global basis.
The Vauxhall/Opel product remains the same, but there is an ongoing issue of brand asset value which requires constant monitoring.
In Skandia’s case, there may be even more incentive not to push the name into other markets, given the brand’s recent exposure to legal and financial scandals and executive ineptitude, and which eventually cost the company its independence in a globalised insurance market - although, interestingly, annuity business American Skandia is as yet retained as a brand by its current owner Prudential Financial, which also acquired Allstate Financial's variable annuity business in June this year to become allegedly the third biggest provider of such products through adviser-led sales in the US market.
At the same time, however, one cannot help but ponder whether the dominance of event sponsorship in the UK through the Skandia Cowes Week, and the brand's presence in the sailing fraternity (and elsewhere) is something the firm could find hard to relinquish.
Instead, there are models already in place, which show how a subtle change could come about as part of Skandia's melding into the OM group.
Abbey's branding, for example, adopts the colours of its parent Santander Group – and carries its flaming logo, suggesting the Skandia name could be retained, but perhaps see its traditional blue colour exchanged for the OM green.
HSBC goes much further, branding all its business lines with the idea of thinking globally and acting locally.
Contrasting this is continued use of different brands by groups such as HBOS (Halifax, Bank of Scotland, BM Solutions), RBS (RBS, NatWest, Ulster Bank) and Lloyds TSB (Scottish Widows, Cheltenham & Gloucester). The difference, of course, is that these latter financial groups are, in the main, not acquisitive right now.
If anything, Lloyds has been cast by the market as the likely target of an acquisition itself – regulators permitting – while HBOS’ strength is seen as stemming not from the acquisition trail but its hold on a third of UK residential mortgages. RBS is seen by some as nursing a little indigestion following its many years of 'hard eating', and of course, like the others mentioned, is a bank rather than an insurer.
Better then, perhaps to compare with Aviva and its continued use of the Norwich Union brand in the UK market? Maybe, but this example also throws up the use-of-colour issue (both Aviva and NU use a blend of yellows and blues), while stories earlier this year about the since scuppered suggestion of a merger with Pru illustrated that the separation of NU as a brand/name is not guaranteed. (Pru-GNU, anyone?)
OM, by contrast, seems to have no problems envisaging a mix of continued organic and acquired growth - the former raising the question about the in-house developed brand Selestia, which in the UK market context is inextricably linked to the question of use of the Skandia brand.
But, like the need to decide whether it is a South African or British company, the markets may yet force a decision on the future of Skandia/Selestia/Old Mutual branding.
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Jonathan Boyd on 020 7484 9769 or email [email protected].IFAonline
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