Many important people have played a role in helping institutional investors across Asia Pacific develop over the past 20 years, but far fewer can claim to have truly broken new ground.

For our 20th anniversary we have chosen 20 individuals in no particular order that we think have made a major impact in the development of asset owners across the region over the past two decades. These individuals represent some of the most thoughtful, open-minded and motivated individuals in the industry. 

Some are leaders of their organisations; others have played important roles within them, helping expand their institution’s capabilities into important new areas. Each has made a telling contribution to the evolution of institutional investment across Asia Pacific over the past two decades.

The next two standout executives are Benjamin Deng, chief investment officer of China Pacific Insurance Company, and Suyi Kim, head of Asia Pacific for Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Benjamin Deng
Chief investment officer, China Pacific Insurance Company
Former head of investment solutions, AIA

China’s insurance companies have become increasingly aware that they need to become more sophisticated investors as their assets continue to mount.

China Pacific Insurance Company (CPIC) decided to do so by hiring a man with one foot in the global investment sphere, and also a strong familiarity with greater China culture. Benjamin Deng had previously worked for 18 years for US insurer AIG and, once it sold off its AIA business, became the head of investment solutions at the latter. He had also worked in New York and Asia.

CPIC brought Deng in 2018 to raise its investing sophistication. As he told AsianInvestor shortly after starting, a key target is to raise alternative assets from low to mid-single digits. That’s a sizeable shift given it has an asset portfolio size of Rmb1.42 trillion ($201.2 billion).

Deng is also seeking to add more experienced staff into its investment management team, and he wants to raise offshore assets by HK$15 billion to HK$20 billion. Part of that will include the assets CPIC just raised through its London global depositary receipts listing on June 16, which raised $1.81 billion.

These steps are needed, as CPIC – like its peers – needs more long-term assets to offset lengthy liabilities. China lacks long-term assets, so Deng’s knowledge of how to source them from other areas will be key, both for CPIC itself and smaller mainland insurers facing similar problems.

Suyi Kim
Head of Asia Pacific, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board 

Precious few Western asset owners can boast $85 billion in Asia-Pacific assets. Even fewer have, like Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), built it up from almost zero in 12 years.

Suyi Kim has been central to that achievement. Hired in Hong Kong in 2007 to set up CPPIB’s first overseas office, she appointed teams and developed partnerships to invest across Asia’s private markets, starting with private equity.

That was a major challenge. “If you can do real estate in China, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can do it in India,” she said. “And an effective partner in China is different from an effective partner in Korea.”

Nonetheless by late 2013 the fund had C$22 billion ($16.13 billion) in Asian assets, at which point Mark Machin, Asia Pacific head at the time, said it could grow its regional exposure to C$150 billion by 2033.

That now looks a conservative estimate. As of March 31, CPPIB had C$116 billion (28% of its C$409.6 billion global AUM) invested in public and private markets in Asia. It looks set to achieve Machin's target with years to spare.

The fund also has 170 staff and over 60 partners across three offices in Asia, having expanded into Mumbai and Sydney, reporting to Kim, who replaced Machin when he became chief executive in 2016.

She conceded it would be tough to repeat the 10% annualised global returns CPPIB has posted over the past decade. Slowing economies, low interest rates, fiercer competition for deals and rising geopolitical tensions will see to that.

Still, with the staff, experience, relationships and reputation it has amassed, CPPIB is well equipped to try.

These profiles originally appeared in AsianInvestor's 20th anniversary, which was published in late June.