Former health and welfare minister Choi Kwang has been named the new chairman and chief executive of Korea’s $360 billion National Pension Service (NPS).
The announcement was made late on Friday by the government’s health and welfare ministry, and reported by local media over the weekend.
Choi is due to take up the role today, May 27. This position became available after Jun Kwang-woo resigned in February and departed on April 18, in line with a reshuffle of top posts as the administration of new president Park Geun-hye took office on February 25.
There has been speculation that Jun has been searching for a management post at one of Korea’s leading commercial banks, although there has been no confirmation of his status.
Choi is now expected to start the search for a new management team at NPS, potentially including a new chief investment officer.
Lee Chan-woo has been CIO of NPS since 2010 and his term officially expires this October. However, it is not certain that Lee will be replaced.
Korea’s health and welfare ministry is understood to have made a 10-strong shortlist and finalised three candidates in the search for a new CEO and chairman to replace Jun.
Concerns have been raised that the government may have to rely on NPS to provide a support net to the nation’s lower-income population, eating into the AUM of the world’s fourth largest pension fund and potentially destabilising future NPS payments to its 23 million members.
As such, the government appears to have plumped for Choi as the best candidate to reform the NPS system given his background in national welfare and pension policy insights.
In fact, Choi becomes the first former health and welfare minister to be appointed chairman and CEO at NPS, although he only served as minister briefly between August 1997 and March 1998. That short tenure came about because Kim Young-sam finished his term as Korean president in 1998, sparking another reshuffle.
Prior to that Choi was president of the Korea Institute of Public Finance between 1995 and 1997.
Choi has focused on an academic career and has served as professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, which states on its website that it has produced numerous CEOs and diplomats.
Choi graduated from Seoul National University with a degree in business administration, and completed a Masters degree from University of Wisconsin in 1974. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Maryland.
NPS was established in 1998 to pay pension benefits. As of April this year, it managed more than $360 billion in assets.