Weeks after China Life Insurance CIO Liu Lefei moved on to become chairman of Citic Private Equity Funds Management, the insurance firm appears to be close to finding a replacement.

Sources say the mainland's largest insurer may settle on an internal candidate as the final choice. And this person will most likely be Liu Hui, current head of trading at China Life Asset Management -- a subsidiary under China Life mostly in charge of running internal insurance assets, but also providing a small but well-run third-party outsourcing service to other domestic Chinese insurers and local pension schemes.

Over at competitor Ping An Insurance, the CIO role has recently been handed to former deputy CIO Timothy Chan.

Little is known about Liu Hui, who has big shoes to fill at China Life Insurance. It is understood that she was previously in charge of pension management for China Life Asset Management and worked on the proprietary desk at China Construction Bank.

Liu Lefei, meanwhile, had excellent pedigree before he joined China Life. He started his career researching for the Ministry of Finance and had hands-on experience running investment businesses at Capital Securities, Beijing Galaxy and Galaxy Securities.

In his four years with China Life, Liu Lefei is mostly remembered for some of his more gutsy private equity deals; taking stakes in Visa, Citic, Southern Grid, as well as participating in the restructuring of Guangdong Development Bank -- all of which led to handsome profits for China Life.

A company spokesman was unable to confirm Liu Hui's appointment as of this writing.

Until a replacement is announced, Wan Feng, president of China Life Insurance and chairman of China Life Pension Insurance, acts as interim CIO.

Wan was a director at China Life Property & Casualty Insurance and China Life Asset Management before being appointed president of China Life Insurance in January 2007. Prior to China Life, Wan worked at PICC-CMG and Tai Ping Insurance.

Wan received his bachelor in economics from Jilin College of Finance and Trade and holds an MBA from the Open University of Hong Kong. He also has a PhD in finance from the Nankai University in Tianjin.

Despite the obvious absence of a front-and-centre CIO, China Life remains among the main contenders in the bidding for AIG's Asia insurance assets, at least according to market sources. Meng Shaoyi, a director in charge of international relations at the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, says, however that this is an "unlikely scenario".