To ensure the role of the company secretary remains fit for the future, organisations need to provide structure, support and technology.
As the company secretarial role changes from a traditionally administrative position to that of a strategic partner to the organisation and the board, it is important that the role is properly resourced. Unfortunately, increased responsibilities have not always been matched by additional support or recognition.
But as governance guidance evolves, so does the role of the company secretary and those tasked with its implementation.
In our 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.
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.
The role of technology
From an administrative perspective, technology has had a huge impact, with 62% using it for tasks such as the collation and distribution of board papers. This might be done electronically or through apps such as BoardPad. It is also being utilised in other areas, such as online training, with 14% currently using it for other purposes.
Investing in technological solutions to support the role of company secretary will help improve efficiency, effectiveness an free up their time to be more engaged in wider strategic and board support duties.
Do qualifications matter?
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. Investing in relevant training, which aids the company secretary in adding strategic value, is key to the role and the board.
Implementing the right 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 the 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 with the company secretary helps make sure this key governance role is utilised effectively.
How to support your company secretary
Developing and resourcing 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?