AsianInvestor's Top 20 pension executives in Asia list showcases an array of senior executives, from CEOs and CIOs to heads of responsible investing and equity chiefs -- change-makers who are leading the industry with their forward thinking and innovative practices.
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.
Today, we showcase two senior investment executives from Taiwan and the Netherlands.
Director General, Bureau of Labor Funds
The public sector veteran was brought out of retirement to help BLF to rebuild its reputation and restore public confidence.
Two years on, it’s fair to say the fund is slowly building a new, cleaner image among its various stakeholders, thanks to Su.
“Integrity is the most important and most basic requirement for us,” Su, who has previous experience with the Ministry of Finance and Financial Supervisory Commission, told AsianInvestor.
She said it was important for the fund to introduce some additional internal controls as she set about to overhaul the fund’s operations to ensure greater accountability.
Su focused on reforms in three key areas of BLF’s operations: in-house investment management; external manager accountability; and responsible investing.
She introduced a rotation system for core investment teams, including investment managers as well as staff in risk management and finance.
“Over the past two years, the frequency and number of people rotated was significant,” she said, noting that the aim was to help colleagues broaden their perspectives with different work experiences. “This would, in turn, improve the efficiency of the entire organisation,” she said.
Before she retired in 2018, Su was president and chief executive officer of the Taipei Exchange, so she is keenly aware of how swiftly financial markets can move.
To ensure risks were being properly assessed, she brought in a broad investment strategy committee, which included a risk management unit, to assess BLF’s quarterly portfolio review on tactical asset allocation, which used to be done by the investment team alone.
She also believes domestic stocks are one of the most important -- and substantial -- sources of risky assets across BLF’s portfolio.
So she created an in-house local stock investment team to enhance internal capabilities.
Stocks accounted for about 44% of the $202 billion in assets under management at the end of April 2023.
In the past, BLF was involved in some lawsuits with external fund management companies and managers related to their misconduct.
To reinforce their accountability and incentivise them to be more diligent and prudent, Su initiated a review of BLF’s various mandates and decided to amend these contracts, especially on compensation mechanisms, where necessary.
The fund also takes sustainable investing seriously: it issued its first climate change-focused global equities mandate worth $2.3 billion in June 2022.
An internal sustainable team is also tasked with monitoring key developments around the world and updating the senior management regularly.
Despite all the organisational changes, Su hasn’t forgotten the most important component of any organisation: its people.
She is keenly aware that while the fund has undergone major changes in the past few years, it is important to make employees feel BLF is still a good place to work.
“Through our gradual institutional reform internally…I hope our colleagues can take pride in working in BLF and feel fulfilled,” Su said. “That’s what I told my colleagues on my first day.”
“To reach that goal, we must make people feel that we are professional and can deliver good performance. People should have a warm feeling about working and growing here,” she added.
For all these reasons, AsianInvestor believes Su is a real change-maker, holding BLF to new and improved standards of accountability and governance.
Head of Responsible Investment & Governance Asia Pacific, APG Asset Management
Yoo-Kyung (YK) Park of the Netherlands-headquartered APG Asset Management, has emerged as an effective leader in the fight against climate change in Asia.
In her role as head of responsible investment and governance for Asia Pacific, she oversees and implements responsible investment policies and engages with companies based in Asia on behalf of APG’s pension fund clients.
Asset classes under her purview include listed equities and real estate, infrastructure, and private real estate.
As Asian companies emit a relatively large amount of CO2 compared to their Western counterparts, Park is deeply cognisant of the crucial role that Asia-Pacific plays in global emissions reduction.
“Park is very much recognised as a leader in ESG and responsible investing in the region. She has been relentless in pursuing companies to adhere to net zero targets, and APG wouldn't have had the same kind of impact in Asia without her,” Thijs Aaten, CEO of APG Asset Management Asia told AsianInvestor.
Through APG's Climate Focus 10 program, Park and her team, have been engaging with the 10 largest CO2-emitting companies in South Korea and Japan, leveraging the €532 billion ($581 billion) Netherlands-based pension fund manager’s shareholder position to persuade these companies to reduce their carbon footprint.
This engagement strategy has yielded some highly positive results and is even been credited with convincing Samsung Electronics -- one of the largest companies in Korea -- to adopt a new environmental strategy and aim for net-zero emissions by 2050.
Park recognises that the tapestry of regulatory frameworks in Asia poses the greatest challenge to climate policy in the region.
When regulation moves, all companies move, and the biggest excuse she hears from Asian companies is that they are waiting for regulatory frameworks to crystallise further before they take climate action.
“This lack of urgency is a significant issue, as without Asia's cooperation, the global net-zero target by 2050 cannot be achieved,” Park told AsianInvestor.
As a shareholder of some of Asia's largest companies, APG believes in engaging with large emitters rather than divesting from them. Park argues that divestment should be the last resort, “as it removes a strong voice pushing companies to focus on responsibility over growth.”
While Park firmly believes that progress in climate action in Japan and Korea will have a significant global impact due to their economic size, her sustainability leadership extends beyond those two countries: she now wants to turn her focus to emerging markets, particularly China and India.
Park is also bullish on Asia pursuing sources of energy from countries like Australia, which have a lot of green natural energy sources, as well as India with its forward-thinking policies.
Because of her drive to promote sustainable investments in the pensions industry, and her impact on encouraging Asian portfolio companies to become more green, AsianInvestor believes Park is a great addition to our Top 20 influential pension executives in Asia list.
(All AUM figures in US dollars.)
On our last day of revealing this list, we showcase a senior pension executive from Taiwan and another from Thailand.