• Zeti is Asia's second-longest serving central bank governor
  • Potential successors seen including minister, ex-politician

As Malaysian central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz prepares to leave in April after three decades at the central bank, here’s a snapshot of people who have been the focus of speculation to succeed her.

Whoever is chosen as her successor will have "very big shoes to fill," said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore. "This is especially so since the global environment remains uncertain and Malaysia is deemed relatively vulnerable to swings in global investor sentiment -- in part due to domestic political rumblings."

Zeti served as a deputy governor before she took the top job in 2000. The central bank declined to comment on whether any of the three current deputies are in the running this time. Given the precedent, they are included in the following list:

*Awang Adek Hussin, ambassador to the U.S.

The former deputy finance minister has been approached by Prime Minister Najib Razak to replace Zeti, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, asking not to be identified as the information is private. Awang has a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School -- Zeti’s alma mater. 

He worked at the central bank for more than a decade from 1985 in departments including economics and banking regulation, and later became an assistant governor. He was appointed U.S. ambassador in 2014. Awang and his assistant didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

*Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrat

Irwan, secretary general of Treasury, is also among those being studied to be central bank governor, according to people familiar with the matter. He started his government career in the Economic Planning Unit in 1984 and in 2003 joined the Finance Ministry, where he has held various positions. 

Irwan has a PhD in economics from the International Islamic University Malaysia and holds a masters of science in energy management and policy from the University of Pennsylvania. He also sits on the boards of state oil company Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and one of Malaysia’s biggest pension funds. Irwan, as well as the three Bank Negara deputy governors, are part of the central bank’s board of directors. He didn’t respond to a mobile text message seeking comment.

*Deputy Governor Muhammad Ibrahim

Muhammad joined the central bank in 1984 and has been deputy governor since June 2010. He oversees international reserve management, and money market and foreign exchange operations. He has served in areas from banking supervision and regulation to insurance and offshore banking. 

Muhammad was previously managing director at Danamodal Nasional Bhd., a bank recapitalization agency created during the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s. He has a masters degree from Harvard University.

*Deputy Governor Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus

Nor Shamsiah joined the central bank in 1987. The Certified Practicing Accountant was involved in policies to strengthen the banking system during the Asian financial crisis and in the development of regulation and guidelines for the financial sector

She also helped formulate the Malaysian financial sector’s 10-year master plan through 2010. She became deputy governor in 2010 and oversees areas including banking, insurance, financial intelligence and enforcement.

*Deputy Governor Sukhdave Singh

A member of one of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities in the Malay-majority nation, Singh joined Bank Negara Malaysia in 1986 and was promoted to deputy governor in 2013. He has served in the economics department, headed monetary-policy research and was director of the monetary assessment and strategy department. 

With a PhD in monetary and international economics from Vanderbilt University, he has represented the bank at global macroeconomic and monetary-policy forums and chaired Southeast Asian task forces on regional exchange rate and currency cooperation.

*Abdul Wahid Omar, government minister and former banker

Wahid’s name had been mentioned in banking circles as a possibility for the central bank’s top position. The son of a factory worker who grew up in poverty, Wahid earned his British accounting degree through a government scholarship and has since been a promoter of Malaysia’s affirmative-action policy aimed at helping ethnic Malays.

Wahid, 51, has held top management positions in several government-linked companies and was chief executive officer of Malayan Banking Bhd., the country’s biggest lender. Najib made him a minister in charge of economic planning in 2013. Two past CEOs of Maybank went on to become central bank governors. Wahid also currently heads the Economic Planning Unit, which served as a launchpad for another former Bank Negara chief. Wahid’s office said that he doesn’t normally comment on market speculation.

*Ismee Ismail, pilgrims’ fund CEO and 1MDB director

Ismee was cited as a potential candidate several months ago, according to two people familiar with the matter. His name has resurfaced in recent weeks, according to one of the people. Since 2006, Ismee has been CEO of Malaysia’s Lembaga Tabung Haji, or the Hajj pilgrims fund, an organization that oversees more than 58 billion ringgit ($14 billion). 

He is also a director at troubled state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd. His assistant and the pilgrims fund didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

*Noor Azlan Ghazali, Monetary Policy Committee member

Noor Azlan, vice-chancellor of the National University of Malaysia and one of the newest members of the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, is also a possible candidate, according to two people familiar with the matter. He worked with Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and served on the National Economic Action Council and at the Economic Planning Unit.

Noor Azlan has a masters in public administration from Harvard University and a PhD in economics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment.

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