South KoreaÆs National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, known colloquially as Nonghyup, has for the first time signed up foreign fund managers to run segregated accounts, and is in the process of seeding their mandates, says Park Jeong-hee, head of investments and securitisation at the groupÆs investment banking department.

The W100 trillion ($109 billion) institution has agreed to allocate $100 million to a global fixed-income account managed by Pimco. It is in similar negotiations with Western Asset Management (Wamco), although the final size of the mandate has yet to be concluded. Both mandates will use the Lehman Global Aggregate Index as a benchmark.

The institution now has around $3 billion invested in various overseas assets. Park would like to see this figure raised, but says it is hard to find good opportunities. ôThere is so much money already chasing a handful of deals,ö Park laments.

Moreover, Nonghyup still needs to develop its own skills and systems for investing abroad.

The human-resources issue is the biggest challenge. Park notes the traditional way to hire people in Korea means recruiting them out of universities, then rotate them throughout the organisation for a general training, with an initial few years working at branch offices.

This isnÆt the way to create specialised investment experts, so Nonghyup is also looking to hire people from the market. As a large quasi-public organisation û Nonghyup provides various financial services for KoreaÆs agricultural sector employees û it is not attractive to bright young sparks in the financial industry, and they are expensive. So far the organisation has recruited professionals for areas such as M&A, international syndicated loans and venture capital, but many gaps remain.

Partly for this reason, the organisation is now developing relationships with global fund management companies. As this is a new experience, Nonghyup prefers to stick with brand names. Until now, the organisation has invested abroad through pooled funds or investment banking products.

In addition to the Pimco and Wamco mandates, it is looking to invest in its first overseas private-equity funds. Nonghyup has been accepted by KKR to participate in its next big $10 billion fund, expected to launch in the first half of this year and targeting transactions in the United States and Asia. Park is still negotiating terms with the buyout specialist.

The organisation has also already invested in funds managed by MBK, the locally based private-equity vehicle of former banker Michael Kim, which invests in Korean, Japanese and Chinese deals; and last year participated in a Japanese real-estate fund run by Morgan Stanley.

Park is interested in finding new ways to access M&A deals in China, and is considering participating with a W10 billion stake in a new private equity technology fund being put together jointly by SingaporeÆs UOB and Korean VC player STIC Ventures, which will invest around 50% in China, 30% in Korea and 20% in Silicon Valley.