State Pensions Most Likely to Lead New Mandate Issuance in Southeast Asia

May 18, 2021 — Singapore

Pension fund assets in the region have been growing steadily and account for about one third of institutional addressable assets, the highest among all institutional types

Despite being cautiously optimistic about the pickup of institutional mandates in 2021, managers in Southeast Asia ex-Singapore believe state pension funds will lead in terms of new mandate issuance this year, according to Cerulli's new report, Asset Management in Southeast Asia 2021: Sustaining a Winning Streak in a New Era.

Institutional addressable assets in the Southeast Asian region grew at a slower rate, at 9.8%, to US$369.2 billion in 2020, lower than the 12.4% growth recorded in 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, some institutions in the region have put the issuance of new mandates on hold, given the market uncertainty and change in market outlook. Some have opted to top up mandates with existing external managers instead of issuing new mandates.

However, some state pensions were seen resuming manager search and hiring activities, as well as the issuing new investment mandates earlier this year. In February 2021, Malaysia’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) established what it said was the world’s first Shariah-compliant private equity direct/co-investment separately managed account (SMA) fund, with an allocation of US$600 million. In March 2021, Philippines’ Social Security System (SSS) opened the bidding process to hire nine local managers to manage three mandates—a balanced fund, a pure equity fund, and a pure fixed-income fund—worth PHP43.1 million (US$897,000) in total assets.

Pension assets in the region have been growing steadily over the years, accounting for 33.4% of institutional addressable assets in 2020, the highest among all institutional types. In the region, Malaysia has the highest percentage of state pension assets outsourced to external managers, at 15%, in 2020.

Even as persistently low interest rates are prompting asset owners to reassess their strategies, target returns between 4% and 5% are seen by the majority, or 61.9% of managers as realistic for institutions, amid the low-interest-rate environment and COVID-19 pandemic. Managers surveyed by Cerulli ranked meeting targeted or future returns, as well as managing liquidity and risks as the top two key topics of discussions when engaging institutional investors this year. Other key issues for managers engaging with institutional clients include environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and alternative investments.

Managers surveyed by Cerulli also ranked global equity and ESG-related strategies among the top five investment strategies institutions are looking for this and next year.

“With their diverse needs and risk appetites, we continue to see asset owners in the region issuing new institutional mandates in both the alternative and traditional spaces,” says Shannen Wong, senior analyst at Cerulli. “Cerulli expects them to continue leveraging managers’ expertise for global, alternative and ESG-related investments, as they diversify across strategies, markets, and countries. As our survey shows, strong investment track record of institutional assets as well as brand reputation will be the two most important factors in winning mandates from institutions.”

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Note to editors

These findings and more are from The Cerulli Report—Asset Management in Southeast Asia 2021: Sustaining a Winning Streak in a New Era. In its 15th iteration, this annual report sizes and identifies opportunities and challenges in five key markets throughout Southeast Asia ex-Singapore—Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. It provides insights into distribution and product trends, regulatory developments, profitability for selected markets, and operational strategies for asset managers in the region.

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