Ann Byrne, the outgoing chief executive officer of UniSuper, will lead the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) from April.

As ACSI’s first full-time CEO, Byrne will join the organisation as it expands its research, advocacy and engagement programs in efforts to improve the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of companies in which its members invest, Michael O’Sullivan, ACSI president, said. He said a full-time CEO was required to guide ACSI’s “growth and reach”. Phil Spathis, executive director with ACSI, will continue working part-time with the organisation as manager of governance and engagement while remaining a partner with IFS Legal, a division of Industry Fund Services. Byrne has been a board member of ACSI since its inception and was most recently its deputy president. In these years the representative body had become increasingly active, O’Sullivan said. He said ACSI was now more engaged with international markets and jurisdictions, and aimed to build alliances with pension funds and organisations harbouring similar aims. It was also attempting to engage corporations about their ESG performance. “We consider ESG to be a part of corporate governance, but they don’t always see it as that.” Last year, the representative body convened a roundtable with funds managers to discuss ESG matters. While general agreements regarding proxy voting were reached, “there was a range of difference in ideas about the ‘E’ and the ‘S’,” O’Sullivan said. ACSI aims to host a similar roundtable this year. “We have a lot of capacity within our membership.” The organisation now represents 41 super funds which collectively manage $250 billion, granting significant weight to its ESG concerns. “We have enough money to have an influence. And when you’ve got the money and responsibility to do something it becomes your fiduciary duty.” O’Sullivan said the risks and opportunities posed by climate change required a responsible and acute response from institutional investors. “The environment is the elephant in the room. Climate change will become an important criterion in stock selection and good governance.” Byrne has 15 years of experience in the management of not-for-profit super funds. In the course of her seven-year tenure as CEO of UniSuper, the $24 billion fund voted proxies in domestic and offshore developed markets, and employed governance and socially responsible investment personnel. It recently began offering a socially responsible balanced option for members. ACSI’s search for a CEO was conducted externally.