Malaysia set to appoint PNB chief to lead country's biggest pension fund - sources

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is expected to name Ahmad Zulqarnain Onn, group CEO of the country's largest asset manager Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), as the head of its biggest state pension fund, three people familiar with the matter said.

The appointment will fill the role left vacant after Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in December named Amir Hamzah Azizan, the previous CEO of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), as second finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle.

Ahmad Zulqarnain's appointment is expected to be announced as early as at the end of January, two of the sources said. In an emailed response to a Reuters' query on Thursday, a spokeswoman at the EPF said the pension fund is "unable to offer any comments at this time on leadership changes."

The prime minister's office and PNB did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak with the media.

The appointment comes as the EPF, the world's 12th largest pension fund, looks to rebuild its reserves following record withdrawal of subscriber funds during the COVID pandemic.

Markets will also be keenly watching Ahmad Zulqarnain's role in scaling up domestic investments following calls by Anwar to government linked institutions to support the country's economy.

Between 2020 and 2022, Malaysians withdrew some 145 billion ringgit in retirement savings from EPF, leading to concerns of a strain on healthcare funding in the longer run.

Ahmad Zulqarnain, a Harvard University graduate, was appointed in July 2020 to head PNB, which managed 343.1 billion ringgit ($72.55 billion) of assets as at Nov. 30, 2022, according to its website.

Under his leadership, PNB spearheaded the creation of Malaysia's largest automotive group to support the country's electric vehicle push, and sought to add infrastructure assets into its portfolio as part of a diversification strategy, among others.

Before joining PNB, Ahmad Zulqarnain was previously Deputy Managing Director at Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund.

Established in 1951, EPF is the 12th largest pension fund in the world with 15.72 million members and total assets of about 1 trillion ringgit, its 2022 annual report said.

EPF's investments in the Malaysian public equities market include the country's largest bank Malayan Banking and electricity utility Tenaga Nasional, according to LSEG data.

EPF also invests in the private markets including real estate and private equity. - Reuters

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