Top 20 pension executives: Leong Wai Leng, Liu Wei

AsianInvestor has identified 20 outstanding executives who are driving the region's pension industry forward. Today, we feature leaders from Canada and China — CDPQ and NCSSF.
Top 20 pension executives: Leong Wai Leng, Liu Wei

AsianInvestor's Top 20 pension executives in Asia list brings together an array of senior executives, from CEOs and CIOs to heads of responsible investing and equity chiefs. 

As Asia faces a growing silver tide, it's imperative that the pensions industry takes steps to modernise and improve its operations to cater to increasing retirement demands. That will require skilled and talented professionals.

You can find more about the rationale for our Top 20 list here.

We continue to unveil our list with two top executives — one from Canada and another from China.

Leong Wai Leng
Managing Director & Head of Asia Pacific, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ)

Overseeing offices in Singapore, New Delhi and Sydney in Asia Pacific, Leong Wai Leng’s leadership has been instrumental in driving the success of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) in this part of the world.

Based in Singapore, Leong heads the Asia Pacific operations for the $301 billion fund. and has played a pivotal role in coordinating all CDPQ activities in the region and ensuring optimal positioning and outreach.

The former CEO of OCBC Bank (China) is renowned for having an extensive business network in China and Southeast Asia, and has proved to be immensely capable of building on the regional capabilities of the Canadian pension fund.

Over the past five years, the $301 billion fund has made significant strides in improving its investment support system in Asia, Leong, who joined CDPQ in 2018, told AsianInvestor.

“We have invested in local legal teams, tax experts, risk analysts, and economic researchers to complement the investment professionals in Asia,” she said.

Asia Pacific accounts for 12% of CDPQ's total assets under management (AUM), while 65% of investments are in the US and Canada, she said.

Highlighting that CDPQ has a bottoms-up approach to investing, she said the focus of the fund is to find the right investment and partner, regardless of location.

When asked about how the firm handled its operations and assets during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leong said CDPQ's long-term investment strategy is not significantly impacted by short-term trends or cycles.

“However, the firm adjusted its strategy for certain sectors, such as real estate, where COVID-19 had a fundamental impact."

Under Leong’s leadership, CDPQ has kept a focus on long-term investing growth in Asia, while leaning towards emerging markets and core infrastructure.

India is a strategic market for CDPQ, driven in part by its favourable demographics. The fund has about 15 employees in its New Delhi offices in different sectors, with a focus in infrastructure.

"Globally, infrastructure is 14% of our AUM, we're looking to grow to 16%. While that’s only it's two percentage points, it's very significant when it comes to the dollar amount,” said Leong.

Other key markets where it has invested over the past decade include China, Japan, Korea, Australia and Singapore.

The growing presence of global investors such as CDPQ in Asia and their local collaborations have encouraged local institutions to think more strategically about their portfolios and investing in asset classes such as real estate and infrastructure as well as private markets broadly, according to industry experts

CDPQ invests in the region mainly through public equities, private equity and private credit as well as via real estate.

“There are diverse opportunities available in the region,” she said, noting that Asia is a "mixed bag" of emerging markets and developed economies, each with their own unique macroeconomic opportunities.

Liu Wei
Chairman, National Council for Social Security Fund (NCSSF)

Liu Wei succeeded Lou Jiwei to become the sixth chairman of one of the world's largest pension funds in April 2019.

Previously, he was China's vice finance minister and vice chairman of the National Council for Social Security Fund (NCSSF), which manages the assets of the $424 billion National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Under Liu's leadership, NCSSF has focused on long-term investment in line with the national priorities, including new energy, semiconductor manufacturing, and emerging technologies.

Investments have a dual purpose of generating returns while also promoting national development.

Through equity investments, NCSSF has funded over 6,000 innovation enterprises in China for nearly Rmb300 billion ($42 billion).

In May 2023, it set up a designated fund to invest in early-stage and growth science and technology innovation enterprises in Zhongguancun, China’s major technology hub located in Beijing.

The fund will be initially seeded with 5 billion yuan ($701.3 million) and will exist for over 10 years.

NCSSF plans to select top financial institutions as fund managers.

Since 2000 -- when NCSSF was established -- the social security fund have averaged an 8.3% annual return until 2021, placing it firmly among the top financial performers globally.

While Liu has been a stable pair of hands, NCSSF has not implemented any drastic operational or investment changes in the past three years amid tight COVID-19 restrictions, based on public information and AsianInvestor research.

Under Liu’s leadership, the pension fund has stayed true to its strategy of allocating an increasing proportion of assets to external managers.

About 66% of the fund’s total assets in 2021 were outsourced to managers, up from around 50% in 2014.

NSSF is also a significant player in domestic financial markets, as about 91% of its assets were invested domestically, while about 9% of assets were invested overseas at the end of 2021.

“Before Covid-19, NCSSF was considering building its alternative portfolio offshore, which seems to have been suspended due to the pandemic,” a senior investment consultant told AsianInvestor.

“It will be interesting to watch whether the pension fund will expand its overseas exposure after the country reopened earlier this year under the high-yield environment overseas,” the consultant said.

High-level meetings this year between NCSSF executives and C-suite delegates from asset managers and banks visiting from the US, Europe, and Canada, as well as meetings with sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation indicate the pension fund may be looking at new ways to improve investment performance.

“From a policy standpoint, we could say that China is still committed to opening up to external markets,” the consultant said, adding that geopolitical tensions could be a potential hurdle to overcome.

(All AUM figures are in US dollars.)

Tomorrow, we will feature pension fund executives from Hong Kong and India. 

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