South Korea’s National Pension Service (NPS) has closed applications for its hiring of external private equity managers, indicating fierce competition.

The NPS has closed applications for external alternative managers for its private equity investments on April 29, sources familiar with the matter said. Total 15 firms, around three times the number of available spots, submitted proposals.

The competition among firms is likely to be fierce, considering the number of applicants to be hired as the NPS’ external managers is normally around twice the number of available spots.

The country’s biggest public pension fund announced in March its plan to select external managers for an alternatives strategy in the domestic market. For private equity and venture capital strategies, managers will be selected through competition. It will choose five private equity firms, with 80 billion to 200 billion won expected to be committed to a fund managed by each firm.

The investment program has been greatly simplified compared to last year when there were four sub-categories under PE and VC strategies. This year, however, the pension fund has removed all sub-categories, allowing applying firms to decide strategies of funds as well as the size of them within a range of 80 billion to 200 billion won. The move is seen to give external managers greater autonomy in preparing their proposals.

But this will likely cause managers to come under more pressure to prove their worth. In the past years, some firms have applied for categories with lower competition at the last minute, hoping to improve their chance of winning the mandate. With changes made this year, such tricks are not possible anymore.

The NPS will conduct document screening, on-site due diligence, presentation competition before announcing the final results in June. The application to select venture capital managers is likely to take place in August. (By reporter Han Hee-yeon)