The accidental EPF investment manager

  • Corporate News
  • Saturday, 28 Dec 2019

Nasir: The returns from overseas investment outweigh the proportion of assets allocated overseas.

IN his mid-30s, Datuk Mohamad Nasir Ab Latif who was already a senior research officer with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) was at the most unlikely of places after office hours.

For a short period of time, he was attending tuition classes for Additional Mathematics at a centre in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur.

Being the oldest student in class, he sat at the back row just to observe the workings of “differentiation and integration” because it was knowledge required to understand the valuation of fixed income debt bonds.

“Initially the teacher did not want to accept me into his tuition class. He later relented when I told him I was there to understand a certain part of Additional Mathematics and would only observe. If I had questions, I would ask the teacher privately after the class, ” Nasir says, recalling the painstaking efforts he went through to prepare for the Master of Science in Investment Analysis from a university in UK in 1999.

“I could have passed the programme without having to undertake the Additional Mathematics classes. But I wanted to do well, ” he says.

Nasir obtained the paper with high grades and was immediately given the due recognition in the EPF when he returned, which was then helmed by Tan Sri Sallehuddin Mohamed. He was made manager of research and since then played a bigger role in helping EPF in its investment decisions.

An investment banker who had to deal with Nasir in early 2000, recalled how he had to change his deal structure a few times to get the “buy in” from the fund.

“We were trying to privatise a company and wanted to pay all cash. But Nasir stood his ground and stated that the EPF would not accept a cash offer because the offer price was too low. We had to then give a share swap offer in additional to cash to see the deal through.

“Nasir was one of those in the EPF who dare reject proposals from companies, even if their shareholders are well connected. He went up against the major shareholder of a large plantation company for paying himself too much, ” recalls the investment banker.

For a person who plays a key role in managing some RM830bil held by the EPF, Nasir does not come with the typical Oxbridge or Harvard credentials.

He understood the intricacies of managing money for the provident fund by learning on the job and equipping himself with the necessary knowledge as his career progressed.

His first work experience was helping his father at a food stall in Sentul after having failed his Lower Certificate of Examination (LCE). He was only 15 years of age when he used to deliver food in tiffin carriers to workers at the KTM workshop in Sentul.

Three years later, he realised that his friends were slowly moving on while he was still stuck at the food stall.

Nasir decided to take night classes and passed the LCE exams. From then on, he pursued his studies while working. He recalled working for a printing company while taking night classes for Form Five.

“When exams were around the corner, the owner of the printing company refused to give me leave. It was then, I decided to quit and focus fully on the exams. Luckily I passed, ” says Nasir.

While waiting for results, Nasir worked part-time as a cleaner in the Telekoms office in Kuala Lumpur.

After the results, he landed a job in Malayan Banking at the Settlements Department where the hours were long.

“At that time, Maybank had branches all over the place and we had to complete the settlements before the day ended. The hours were long and I was mentally tired when the day was over. It did not allow me to continue with my night classes for Form 6, ” says Nasir.

Then, the government came up with a major recruitment programme called Operasi Isi Penuh to fill up vacancies in the public sector. Nasir landed with a job in the Chemistry Department in Petaling Jaya where work finished during regular hours.

His stint with the Chemistry Department was short – from 1981 to end-1982. But It was also there where he met his wife. Nasir joined the EPF as an inspector with the Penang office’s enforcement division in 1982.

Nasir was among the pioneers in EPF’s research department.

Recalling his early days with the research department, Nasir says he had just completed his degree in Economics from USM, which he did off-campus for six years while working as an inspector with the Penang branch when he got a call to join the research department in Kuala Lumpur.

“I had nightmares during my first few weeks with the research department. I had never dealt with cash flows, balance sheet and the money market, it was all so new to me, ” Nasir quips.

Not giving up, Nasir quickly enrols himself to take some papers under the Certified Diploma in Accounting and Finance from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in 1996.

“You must always prepare when you want to do something, I learn investment all by myself. While taking night classes, I was reading investment books because I really like the subject, ” he says.

Nasir found investment fascinating and started to take a keen interest in the subject matter, which prompted him to undertake a masters programme in investments.

“I still get excited with investment proposals. It is very stimulating, ” says Nasir who will go on to be the chairman of PLUS after his retirement.

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