Kristin Varela Chosen as Hawaii’s CIO

If you can imagine being tapped to be an interim Chief Investment Officer during the pandemic, then you can imagine Kristin Varela’s nerves of steel and cool-headed acumen when she applied herself to her first CIO role. Lauded by CIOs in the industry as a future ascendant to watch, the former interim was just selected out of more than 200 applicants to become The Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Hawaii (ERS)’s new chief investment officer, effective January 17, 2023.

The ERS Board of Trustees approved Varela’s appointment after a nationwide search by the firm Kumabe HR. She will replace Elizabeth Burton, who left the fund in June to join Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Acting CIO Howard Hodel, who was with the fund since 2014, is planning to retire in 2023.

 “It’s an honor and an enormous privilege to be appointed to this position,” Varela said in a written statement. “I am excited to join such a prestigious team and look forward to serving the hard-working employees of Hawaii.”

Said Trustees Chair Vince Barfield: “I join the board and staff in welcoming Kristin to our team. She comes highly experienced in the public plan arena and is particularly skilled in the institutional risk and asset classes that are the underpinnings of our successful investment strategy. We look forward to her leadership in further strengthening our program.”

Varela holds nearly 15 years of experience in the institutional investment industry and has served in the public and private sectors throughout her career. As the deputy CIO for the Public Employees Retirement Association of New Mexico, she was appointed interim after Dominic Garcia departed in May 2021 and she oversaw the  implementation of a $17 billion pension portfolio, ensuring the long-term solvency of the plan that serves more than 90,000 active and retired members.

Her specialties are in risk-based asset allocation, innovative investment solutions, and prudent portfolio implementation, and she brings broad expertise in modeling, market analysis, and manager-specific due diligence across various asset classes of public, private, and alternative markets.

ERS Executive Director Thomas Williams said: “Public funds always benefit from hiring the best talent available. While a specific fund’s staffing needs may evolve over time, a constant is outstanding intellect, character, commitment, competence, and vision. Kristin checks all these boxes and more.”

By Christine Giordano