Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS) yesterday designated Kang Myoun Wook, former chief executive of Meritz Asset Management, as its new chief investment officer, with his term due to start today.

The move comes after former health and welfare minister Moon Hyung-Pyo started as NPS chairman and CEO on December 31. This followed a spat between former chairman and CEO Choi Kwang and former CIO Hong Wan-Sun, which led to both leaving the $430 billion state fund. 

The CIO post had been effectively vacant since November 3, when Hong stepped down, although he officially remains in the role until his successor takes over. 

Local media had reported earlier this month that Kang had emerged as the frontrunner for the role. He will be the seventh CIO since 1999, when NPS set up its NPS Fund Management group. The position is for a two-year term with a one-year extension option.

The CIO search started almost three months ago and there were reportedly 18 applicants for the position. The strong competition explains why it took so long to make the selection, according to local media. The rationale behind Kang’s appointment was seen to be his local and international asset management industry experience.

It is understood that three were shortlisted in addition to Kang: 'Don' Lee Dong-ik, former CIO of sovereign wealth fund Korea Investment Corporation; Jeong Jae-ho, ex-CIO of the Korean Federation of Community Credit Cooperatives; and Kevin Kwon, former CIO of the Government Employees Pension Service.

There was a perception among local capital market figures that the CIO would be required to have a strong sense of professionalism and independence to resist – or at least be seen to resist – political pressure. 

It is understood that such a perception discouraged several potential candidates from applying for the CIO role, a hugely influential post commonly regarded as akin to president of Korea’s domestic capital markets.

Meanwhile, AsianInvestor has argued that the selection approach should attribute more importance to performance – rather than to term limits, as has been the case in the past.

Kang started his career in 1985 with Kookmin Investment and Trust, before working at UK firm Schroder Investment Management and Dutch bank ABN Amro. He served as CEO at Meritz AM from 2008 to 2013, and most recently was an adviser to the fund house from 2013 to 2014. AsianInvestor could not ascertain what he has been doing since then.