At a time when Asia Pacific’s pension funds need to modernise, expand and improve, having high calibre professionals in key roles will be vitally important.
For that reason, AsianInvestor has consulted leading pension fund experts, consultants, custodians and fund managers to put together a list of 20 pension executives who stand out in their field. The list, which has been rolled out online over the last couple of weeks, is not ranked. Nor is it intended to be exhaustive. But hopefully it highlights why these particular executives in the region have so impressed their peers, business partners and colleagues.
You can also find out more about the rationale for our list. Today, we move on to executives from Hong Kong and Australia.
Managing director and CEO, BCT group, Hong Kong
Lau Ka-shi (pictured), managing director and CEO of the BCT Group, comprising BCT Financial Ltd and Bank Consortium Trust Company Ltd, a major pension provider in Hong Kong, is one of Hong Kong’s loudest voices when it comes to pension reform.
She is an advocate for many issues, including corporate governance (including environment, social and governance, or ESG), social inclusion and diversity, health care, and retirement protection. Lau, who joined the firm in November 1999, walks the talk too; industry observers say BCT is among the first mandatory provident fund (MPF) providers in Hong Kong to incorporate ESG elements when picking fund managers. Other asset owners have been following suit.
“Fund managers also need to bring it up with their clients—they shouldn’t just wait for the asset owner to broach the topic,” Lau told AsianInvestor.
The company doesn’t manage its own MPF fund but selects MPF products from seven fund managers. At the end of July 2017, it had HK$150 billion ($19 billion) under administration, serving over one million member accounts in Hong Kong.
Lau said one strategic goal is to improve its cyber resilience: “We collect a lot of personal data and want to ensure we are able to protect the data appropriately and securely.”
Lau also thinks technology can remove the “pain points” of customers and staff; BCT is testing robotic processing to improve work process efficiency, while for members it has introduced an e-payment system and online identity authentication.
Chief Investment Officer, Unisuper, Australia
John Pearce is known as the best-paid chief investment officer among all Australian superannuation funds. But he’s been able to command this level of compensation because of a stellar track record.
Like its compatriot AustralianSuper, UniSuper has been a fervent believer in managing assets internally, and has brought the investment decisions of almost half of its A$65 billion (A$51.24 billion) of assets inside its walls. The team, headed by Pearce, is granted a great deal of autonomy when investing too, and is trusted to make big calls without always having to get approval from the investment committee. This can be a vital advantage, as it lets them execute faster.
This is largely down to Pearce. He boasts an interesting career, having moved from a 15-year career with Colonial First State in Australia to join Ping An Insurance of China as its CIO in January 2007. But he was only there for 22 months before leaving in October 2008, amid the trials of the global financial crisis.
Returning to Australia, Pearce took over as CIO of UniSuper in July 2009. Since then he has overseen the setup of a sophisticated investment procedure that has helped underpin its investing philosophy, while helping it post impressive returns.
UniSuper incorporates 10 investing principles that cover areas such asset allocation, valuation, diversification, market inefficiencies, liquidity, risk and ESG. Investments that don’t meet all the principles don’t get through. This is both good practice and meets the needs of a highly educated clientele that is mostly comprised of education staff from universities and colleges.
“UniSuper is large and growing rapidly. It’s got a sophisticated membership base and the super fund has had to comply with this in their offering,” said the head of Australia for an international securities services company. “John Pearce is responsible for that; he’s a big player in the super space, very well known.”
Its funds have done well, too. UniSuper’s balanced option returned 11.96% in 2017, and 10.82% over a five-year basis.
Some of its savviest investments over the past few years include orders for private placements and hybrid securities issued by investment-grade corporates, and increasing its exposure to direct infrastructure. Pearce also strives to be accessible; each month he features on the fund website in a ‘Five Questions for the Chief Investment Officer’ video.