Chris Hitchen is to step down from his role as CEO of RPMI Railpen “within the next year”, the UK pension fund has announced.

Hitchen has led the industry-wide scheme for UK railway companies for 13 years, having first joined the group nearly 20 years ago.

“I have for some time been working with senior stakeholders on a succession plan for RPMI, and now is the right time to put it into effect,” Hitchen said. “I am confident that I am leaving the organisation, and members’ pensions, in very safe hands.”

He joined the now-£25bn (€28.7bn) scheme in 1998 as an investment director. He became CEO in 2004.

In recent years, Hitchen oversaw a major overhaul of RPMI’s investment structure, establishing an in-house investment team as part of an “investment transformation programme” (ITP). The scheme has also undergone a forensic review of investment costs, resulting in significant savings.

Hitchen said: “ITP was a fantastically worthwhile and inspiring programme, which was necessary for us to meet our mission of paying members’ pensions securely, affordably and sustainably in a low-return world. It has been an honour to serve the needs of one-third of a million railway workers and their employers.”

Earlier this year Julian Cripps was appointed director of investment business at RPMI Railpen as part of the succession plan. The group’s three investment directors – Ciarán Barr, Paul Bishop, and Richard Williams – now report to Cripps, rather than Hitchen.

Hitchen is an influential figure in the UK pensions sector. He chaired the National Association of Pension Funds, now the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, from 2007 to 2009, as part of a decade-long tenure with the trade body.

During that time he helped establish the Pensions Quality Mark, a kitemark standard for UK defined contribution (DC) funds.

In addition, Hitchen was a trustee of NEST, the government’s defined contribution master trust, from 2010 to 2015, and chaired its investment committee for three years.

John Chilman, chair of the Railways Pension Trustee Company, said: “I and my fellow Trustee Directors would like to thank Chris for the exceptional service he has given to the railways pension schemes over some nineteen years.

“We respect his desire for a fresh challenge and will be announcing our plans for the future leadership of the organisation shortly.”