Top 20 pension executives: Hazman Hilmi Sallahuddin, Stephen Gilmore

AsianInvestor has identified 20 outstanding executives who are driving forward the region's pension industry. On day 8, we showcase executives from Malaysia's KWAP and New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
Top 20 pension executives: Hazman Hilmi Sallahuddin, Stephen Gilmore

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 Malaysia and New Zealand.

Hazman Hilmi Sallahuddin
Chief Investment Officer, Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan) (KWAP)

Hazman Hilmi Sallahuddin, CIO of Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan), or KWAP, may be a relative newcomer to his role but in that short time, he has quickly established himself as an astute money manager capable of steering the fund’s $33 billon of assets under management.

Sallahuddin joined KWAP in January 2022, yet comes with vast experience in senior roles at Malaysian state-owned entities, including Johor Corporation’s real estate unit, Malaysian Airlines and sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad.

His experience in private equity, venture capital and investment strategy has come in good stead at KWAP, which utilises a variety of investment strategies across bonds, equities, private equity and property across the globe.

KWAP is seen as one of the more sophisticated investors in Southeast Asia, ias it invests overseas and in complex asset classes such as private equity and infrastructure.

Sallahuddin, described as friendly and extremely approachable by people who met him, is seen a good choice to lead the Retirement Fund’s investments given his considerable experience not just in private markets but also of other geographies including London and Istanbul.

He’s a firm believer in having resilient portfolios that don’t just have defensive characteristics, but also the ability to quickly capitalise on emerging opportunities, he told AsianInvestor at its flagship event in Singapore in November.

KWAP has about 80% of its assets in domestic markets, while 20% is invested overseas. Hazman has said he would like to change that proportion to 70/30.

He also wants to increase the share of private assets from around 10% to 20%, he said at the event last year.

That view was also expressed by CEO Nik Amlizan Mohamed a few months earlier to other media, noting that these changes would help the fund increase annual returns to 7% by 2025.

Sallahuddin, nevertheless, saw the domestic tilt as a blessing in disguise since even amid the global market turmoil, the domestic economy and demand remained solid.

Even with the relatively small overseas share of investments, the fund invests in 41 countries across seven continents.

The fund has invested in at least 54 private equity funds, with exposure mainly in North America, Europe and North Asia, as well as selective exposure in developing Asia.

Equities play a significant role in KWAP’s portfolio, generating a considerable portion of the pension fund’s total investment income.

A part of the equity investments is outsourced to external fund managers as well.

KWAP is particularly known for being a leader in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.

Testimony to that is it won AsianInvestor’s prestigious Institutional Excellence Award for being an ESG champion in the region in 2018.

KWAP is known for its various efforts to help promote the conversation around ESG internally and to external stakeholders.

It was also the first pension fund in Malaysia to become a signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI).

Stephen Gilmore
Chief Investment Officer, NZ Superannuation Fund

As chief investment officer of the $40 billion New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZ Super), Stephen Gilmore has been instrumental in making significant improvements to the sovereign wealth fund's investment processes over the last three years.

While NZ Super is a sovereign wealth fund, its goal is grow government money over the long term to pay for superannuation costs. 

That is why AsianInvestor decided to include a senior executive from this fund in our Top 20 list.

Under Gilmore, who was previously worked with Australia's Future Fund and International Monetary Fund, NZ Super's assets under managment (AUM) have grown by over $3 billion. 

While it is a very young fund (established in 2001) industry experts say NZ Super is a sophisticated institutional investor that invests significantly overseas and in some complex asset classes such as private equity, timber and infrastructure.

The signficant AUM increase and related growth in investment teams has led Gilmore to make some changes in its approach to approving certain types of investments.

“Directors in the direct investments team can now approve follow-on investments into existing assets and investment opportunities, up to a certain level. Approvals for investments into a new company or platform, however. remain with the CIO,” Gilmore told AsianInvestor.

Similar changes were also made in the external investments and partnerships team.

“These changes are intended to empower members of the investment team, improve scalability, and ensure the decision to invest is being made by the person with the relevant knowledge and expertise,” Gilmore said.

NZ Super has a long-standing commitment to responsible investment, based on the belief that environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations, including climate change, are fundamental to long-term risk and returns.

Working in sync with NZ Super’s ESG mission, Gilmore led the fund in a highly significant change last year -- shifting its passive global equity benchmarks to the MSCI Paris-aligned indices launched in 2021.

“In addition to helping us meet our net carbon-zero commitments, we expect moving to the new indices will improve the ESG profile of our global equities portfolio,” he said.

Under Gilmore’s leadership, NZ Super stuck to its long-term investment strategies throughout the market volatility brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and achieved strong results.

“Our approach to managing investment and liquidity risk, as well as the extraordinary turnaround in global capital markets, allowed us to post our highest ever annual return in 2020/21,” he said.

While Gilmore says his team has not identified any trends specific to Asia that will inform their approach to investing in the region, one area that they see as being potentially attractive is logistics in China and Japan.

The next few months could prove interesting, as Gilmore is also tipped to be frontrunner for becoming the next CEO of NZ Super, after incumbent Matt Whineray said he would vacate the post by the end of 2023.

Watch this space.

(All AUM figures in US dollars.)

Tomorrow, we showcase top pension executives from The Netherlands and Taiwan.

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