Three of Canada’s biggest retirement funds, which manage a combined $630 billion, are hitting the Asian expansion trail hard, underscoring ambitious plans to add to their asset base in the region despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between them, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (Omers) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) are currently recruiting at least 26 staff, mostly investment professionals, at varying levels across Asia Pacific.

Job adverts posted in the past month or so show that the three institutions' public and private equity teams will see the biggest expansion, but credit and real estate are also key areas of focus. 

CPPIB

CPPIB wants to hire 11 individuals for its regional headquarters in Hong Kong and six in Mumbai. With 180 staff, it has comfortably the biggest Asia headcount of the three retirement funds, and the largest regional exposure. Asia Pacific accounts for nearly 30% of its C$476 billion ($378 billion) global portfolio.

Suyi Kim, CPPIB

The fund’s vacancies in India include a portfolio manager for fundamental equities and associates for both renewable energy and private equity. In Hong Kong, CPPIB is looking for a China-focused senior portfolio manager and three other equity-related professionals, as well as two credit investment specialists.

It is understood that the roles advertised are a mix of newly created posts and replacement hires, but CPPIB declined to comment on which or how many individuals had left and when they did so.

The fund has also created the role of head of Asia Pacific operations to support regional chief Suyi Kim. The appointee will effectively act as a chief of staff in operational matters and reflects the burgeoning size of the regional setup.

A CPPIB spokeswoman declined to offer specific hiring numbers or comment on the recruitment of particular employees. However, she said overall staff increases in Asia were in part a response to its experiences.

"The pandemic of the past year has shown us the importance of having an on-the-ground presence and the ability to access local opportunities and conduct due diligence," the spokeswoman said, adding that as a result CPPIB had decided to "grow our on-the-ground presence to allow us to invest in this important region”.

OMERS 

Omers, meanwhile, is adding talent across capital markets and real assets in Asia Pacific, with the region accounting for around 10% of its C$105 billion ($83.1 billion) under management.

The fund is recruiting a senior analyst for the capital markets desk to cover energy, industrials, materials and mining – similar areas of focus to those of Charlotte Tan, who joined last year. The team, which was launched in 2019, is now around seven-strong and is likely to expand by another four or five this year, said a source familiar with the matter. 

David Matheson,
Oxford Properties

Omers' real estate arm, Oxford Properties, is seeking two investment professionals and a legal executive in Singapore and an analyst in Sydney. Underlining such commitments, the unit's head of Europe and Asia Pacific, David Matheson, intends to relocate to Singapore from London in the coming months.

Moreover, Omers is expected to add several individuals to its infrastructure team in Sydney after it joined a partnership announced in November last year to invest in Australian telecommunications infrastructure. The Symphony Consortium also involves Australian tower company Stilmark and US wireless network operator ATN International.

To accommodate the headcount growth in Singapore, Omers plans to expand its office there this year, either by adding to its space at One Raffles Quay or moving to another location, the unnamed source said. The branch was set up in 2018 and is understood to house about 20 staff now.

An Omers spokesman declined to comment on any of these developments or figures. 

OTPP

Like its two peers, OTPP is moving to add to its equity investment capabilities in both Hong Kong and its new Singapore branch, which opened in September. This is in line with plans outlined to AsianInvestor in December to add at least 15 to its 34 staff in the region this year.

Lin Jing, OTPP

Lin Jing joined the C$207 billion ($164.3 billion) scheme's private equity team this month to invest in high-growth companies with innovative technology and/or business models. A spokesman said the role was newly created. She previously worked for private equity firm Sailing Capital and before that Baring Private Equity Asia.

OTPP is also looking to add a senior principal for high-conviction equities in either Hong Kong or Singapore and a principal for private capital in Hong Kong. The HCE team invests across the equity asset class in pre-IPO, private investment in public equity (Pipe) and public companies, while the private capital team makes PE investments.

Meanwhile, OTPP’s property investment unit, Cadillac Fairview, hopes to put staff in Asia this year. It had intended to do so in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner in the works.

GLOBAL TREND

CPPIB, Omers and OTPP are not alone among Western asset owners with an eye on building out their headcount and capabilities in Asia. Dutch pension fund manager APG, for instance, is making similar efforts, and another Canadian public fund, PSP Investments, set up its first office in the region in early 2019 in Hong Kong.

At the same time, Asian institutional investors are also ramping up their international investment exposure, among them Malaysia's Employees Provident Fund and PNB. And some – such as AustralianSuper and Korea's $735 billion National Pension Service – are targeting major overseas team expansion. 

Canadian retirement funds have long been known for their direct investing model, for which they need sizeable teams on the ground in their target markets. Other asset owners are increasingly following suit.