Asia continues to lag other regions for integrating ESG principles with investing; better data and stronger regulatory requirements will help institutional investors, market observers say.
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.
To begin with, we profile Mark Konyn, current chief investment officer of Asia's largest insurer AIA, and Paul Costello, the founding CEO of two of the region's sovereign wealth funds.
Group chief investment officer, AIA
Heading investments for the largest insurance company in Asia ex-Japan is no easy task, requiring as it does the need to meet multiple regulatory requirements across 18 markets, policy return promises amid a dropping rate environment, and keeping up local investments.
Mark Konyn has done an admirable job keeping all these plates spinning since being appointed as AIA’s CIO in August 2015, five years after it listed as an independent company from former owner AIG.
He had lived in Asia since 1989, and held senior positions at Allianz Global Investors, Fidelity Investments and PCA, before becoming the CEO of insurance-focused Cathay Conning Asset Management. His in-depth knowledge of the needs of insurers and Asia has served him well since.
AIA’s success can be seen through consistently decent results. It most recently reported an investment return of 3.3% on $102.9 billion in assets at the end of 2019.
The complexities of investing across wildly varying countries has led AIA to shift its strategy. It has appointed country CIOs under Konyn, and created an investment centre in Singapore in 2017, to help advise each one and help monitor overall portfolio risk and positions.
Konyn hasn’t been afraid to explore new areas too, including ESG. He and his team have built an in-house understanding about the subject to the point that AIA became Hong Kong’s first UN PRI signatory in July 2019.
The insurer now actively considers ESG in its investing decisions.
Former chief executive, New Zealand Super; former chief executive, Future Fund
Once the head of Superannuation Trust of Australia, now part of Australian Super, Paul Costello was chosen to become the founding CEO of New Zealand Super in 2003, following a global search. When the New Zealander arrived a handful of staff were working out the newly established fund’s investment philosophy, structure and goals.
Costello, who is described by his contemporaries as very intelligent, as well as “a lovely man” and “pleasure to work with”, supported them as they talked to peers and forged an identity around governance and adaptation.
He stayed at NZ Super for three years before being asked to form Australia’s Future Fund in 2006. “I think Paul couldn’t resist the temptation of being asked to found not one, but two sovereign wealth funds,” said a former colleague.
At Future Fund Costello repeated the work he had done with NZ Super, helping set its foundations and shepherding it through the global financial crisis of 2008.
He left in 2010 and spent periods as a member of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s payments systems board, part of the Qantas Superannuation Fund, and independent chairman of the infrastructure investment committee at the Queensland government’s QIC investment fund.
Sadly, Costello was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and, after a long battle with the illness, died in November 2018. He was 61.
This article originally featured in AsianInvestor's 20th anniversary magazine edition, which was published in late June.
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