New NPS CIO ticks the right boxes

The new head of investments at the world’s third-largest pension fund has the relevant experience to steer the asset allocation strategy at the Korean state pension fund, sources tell AsianInvestor.
New NPS CIO ticks the right boxes
Seo Won-joo

The National Pension Service (NPS) of South Korea has chosen Seo Won-joo as its new chief investment officer (CIO).

Seo served as the CIO of Government Employees Pension Service (GEPS) of Korea for three years from May 2019. At NPS, his term is two years and can be extended on a yearly basis.

One Hong Kong-based investment consultant advising Korean asset owners said that the appointment of Seo was not a surprise, since he is considered to be qualified for the position in the country's investment industry.

“Mr. Seo’s prior roles as the CIO of GEPS, Samsung Life and Mirae Asset Life etcetera will be useful to leverage the experiences for the bigger role in NPS. His diversified investment knowledge and experiences across various asset classes [both] overseas and domestic, together with his leadership, might be positively considered,” the investment consultant told AsianInvestor, on condition of not being named.

Seo started his financial career in 1988 at Samsung Life Insurance, where he held numerous roles over the span of 26 years, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to GEPS, Seo was CIO of the now-defunct PCA Life Insurance, which was fully acquired by Mirae Asset Life Insurance Co. in 2018, for four years since 2014.

NPS, which managed W915.3 trillion ($724.7 billion) in assets as of October 31, 2022, reported on December 30 that it saw a cumulative negative return of 5.29%, or W51 trillion, in the first 10 months of 2022. This performance showed a relative improvement compared to the first six months of 2022, when the pension fund had a negative return of 8% or W76.7 trillion.

Also read: Home bias takes a toll on performance for Korea’s NPS


At Samsung Life, Seo held the roles of head of the insurer’s New York and Singapore offices, among others.

One Seoul-based advisor pointed out that Seo all along had been a strong candidate for the NPS CIO role for this new term. The advisor especially pointed out Seo’s strong career credentials in asset management, including overseas investments and alternatives investments.

The latter is an asset class where NPS aspires to move from a projected 13.4% of total AUM by 2022 to 15% by 2026.

“He has good experience in overseas investments working in New York and Singapore. In addition, he has quite good understanding and experience in alternative investments. As NPS needs to strengthen these two factors, he is a good fit, and it will continue and strengthen its strategy,” the advisor told AsianInvestor, on condition of not being named.

Also read: NPS curbs public downturn risk with alternatives

Ahn Hyo-joon

Born in 1966, Seo holds a master's degree in business administration at Yonsei University. As NPS CIO, he succeeds Ahn Hyo-joon, who stepped down on October 18, 2022.

Ahn was the longest-serving CIO in the pension fund's history, holding the post for four years. He took office in October 2018 for a two-year term and served two consecutive one-year terms.

Also read: KIC's internal recruitment of new CIO seen as a wise choice

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