Hawaii ERS Names Kristin Varela as New CIO

Coming from New Mexico’s PERA, where she was deputy, the new chief replaces Elizabeth Burton.

Kristin Varela

The State of Hawaii Employees’ Retirement System has hired a new CIO, Kristin Varela, who has been No. 2 at the Public Employees Retirement Association of New Mexico. She succeeds Elizabeth Burton, who served almost four years as the Hawaii plan’s head.


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


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Burton stepped down in June, citing family and personal concerns, and a nationwide search for her replacement ensued. The Hawaii program is slightly larger, at just under $22 billion in assets under management, than the New Mexico plan ($17 billion).


Varela became interim CIO in New Mexico in 2021 after the departure of Dominic Garcia. She held that position until Michael Shackelford took over the top job in August.


Varela holds a B.B.A. in finance from New Mexico Highlands University and last year was nominated for CIO’s Industry Innovation Award for public defined benefit plans below $21 billion. She also was named as one of CIO’s “Forty Under Forty” up-and-comers in 2017 (the award now known as NextGens). At the time, she was focused on real assets.


The Hawaii program touts Varela’s wide-ranging experience, saying in a statement: “Varela brings broad expertise in modeling, market analysis and manager-specific due diligence across various asset classes of public, private and alternative markets. She specializes in risk-based asset allocation, innovative investment solutions and prudent portfolio implementation.”


“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,” said Vince Barfield, chair of the fund’s board, in a statement.


The Hawaii program, which had a funded ratio of 58.3% as of 2021, returned 3.66% for the fiscal year 2022, ending June 30. Hawaii ERS reported three-, five- and seven-year annualized returns of 9.96%, 8.73% and 8.00%, respectively, beating its benchmarks for each period.


Hawaii ERA’s acting CIO, Howard Hodel, intends to retire next year and will stay on to assist the transition.


Related Stories:

Elizabeth Burton to Step Down as CIO of Hawaii ERS

Hawaii State Pension Fund Returns 3.66% for Fiscal Year 2022

2019 Power 100 Elizabeth Burton: After Her First Year at Hawaii ERS


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