The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees has appointed acting chief executive Eva Scheerlinck to the role permanently.

AIST made the announcement on Thursday during its annual general meeting at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds, on the Gold Coast.

Scheerlinck was named acting chief executive on March 1, preceding the departure on March 10 of former chief executive Tom Garcia.

Garcia announced his intention to step down on December 16, 2016. He will stay in the not-for-profit super sector, joining the country’s largest industry fund, AustralianSuper, as head of product.

Scheerlinck had served in the role of AIST executive manager, governance and stewardship, since 2010.

She recently led the development of a new governance code for AIST profit-to-member funds, which is set to take effect from July 1 this year. She has also been pivotal in driving industry-wide initiatives to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians, having been the inaugural chair of the Indigenous Superannuation Working Group.

AIST president David Smith said Scheerlinck has a “deep appreciation of the challenges and opportunities” facing the superannuation industry, as well as the leadership qualities to ensure that AIST “continues to be a strong and influential advocate” for Australia’s $700 billion profit-to-member super sector.

“Eva Scheerlinck is highly respected across the superannuation industry and beyond for her significant contribution to super policy and governance debates, including her dedication to improving retirement outcomes for low-income earners and disadvantaged groups,” Smith said.

Focus on building trust

Scheerlinck said she was excited to be taking on the role of leading AIST and working with the board and staff.

“The year is shaping up to be a busy and significant one for AIST, with the launch of our governance code, our ongoing work, ensuring smooth implementation of the new super tax changes and, most importantly, our advocacy on default fund selection to ensure that Australia’s compulsory super system continues to offer the highest level of consumer protection and serves members’ best interests,” she said.

In her opening address to the conference on Wednesday, Scheerlinck spoke of the importance of building trust in the sector.

Speaking to Investment Magazine recently, Garcia said the top priority for his successor would be to focus on preserving the sector’s profit-to-member ethos.

Suzette Thurman joins AIST board

AIST members at the group’s AGM also voted on the 2017 board. This resulted in the addition of one new board member and the re-election of four others.

Suzette Thurman, from First State Super, was the new addition and will serve as a fund representative director.

Gerard Noonan, Michael O’Connor and Smith were all re-elected as trustee representative directors, while Louise du Pre-Alba was re-elected as a fund representative director.

AIST is governed by a representative board elected by the membership. Directors are elected for two-year terms, with half the board retiring each year to provide for a reasonable level of board continuity from one year to the next.

The AIST board will elect a president for the next two years at the next board meeting, in April. Smith remains president until this time.