To ensure the role of the company secretary remains fit for the future, organisations need to consider providing structure, support and technology.
This is particularly important as the company secretarial role changes from a traditionally administrative role to that of a strategic partner to the organisation and the board. Unfortunately, increased responsibilities have not always been matched by additional resource or recognition.
But as governance guidance evolves for organisations, so does the role of the company secretary and those tasked with its implementation. In our latest cross-sector report ‘Is the role of the company secretary fit for the future?, we surveyed company secretaries, directors and other governance professionals. We looked at the role of the company secretary in the setting, managing and promotion of governance standards.
What used to be an administrative role is expanding. In many organisations, the company secretary is an essential conduit between the board and the organisation. Of those surveyed, 80% say their responsibilities have increased.
The report provides insight into challenging the effectiveness of the company secretarial role so that future needs are met.
What are the key findings?
As a result of increased regulation and compliance, four out of five company secretaries feel their role has increased in responsibility and breadth. There is a greater expectation that they be involved in strategic aspects of governance and board effectiveness. Many feel they have insufficient resource or support, 38% have no team to support the role and 31% have no formal governance, financial or legal qualifications.
Is technology supporting the company secretary role?
For administration tasks, 62% use technology, eg the collation of board papers and their distribution electronically or through boards ‘apps’ such as BoardPad. Only 14% use it for other means such as online training. Investing in technological solutions to support the role will provide efficiency, effectiveness and can improve governance. It can free up time for the company secretary to be more engaged in wider strategic and board support duties.
Will the qualifications of your company secretarial team help you deliver good governance?
Of the company secretaries surveyed, 31% have no formal qualifications - something that is acute in the charity and housing sectors. Governance qualifications that are narrow (eg solely financial or legal) may result in an equally narrow view of what it means for your organisation. This affects the company secretary’s ability to carry out their role, as well as the level of training they can provide to the board.
What is your reporting structure?
Company secretaries support the board and the chair, but they still need to report into an executive – often the CEO, the CFO, the general counsel or head of legal. This can affect the nature of their role as those in a legal team may be more focused on compliance whereas being managed by the CFO may make the role more finance-focused. Ensuring the board and chair have direct contact and access to the company secretary helps make sure this key governance role is utilised effectively.
What can you do?
Developing and supporting the company secretary role can make a real impact to your organisation’s governance. Ask yourself:
- Is your organisation supporting changes to the company secretary role?
- If the role has increased, has there been sufficient investment, development and time to support change?
- How does the structure of the secretarial team affect board effectiveness?