What does the company secretary of the future look like?

Nov 5th '18

It’s been a while since we last explored the role of the company secretary. But it’s a job that is constantly evolving. Changes in technology, expectations and the wider business landscape are all influencing the skills company secretaries need and tasks they are expected to undertake.

With a new report from Grant Thornton asking whether the company secretary role is fit for the future, it seemed like a good time to pose the question – what does the company secretary of the future look like?

Today’s company secretary – the current picture

The new Grant Thornton report examines the continual evolution of the role. While it was once primarily administrative, today there is a growing expectation that the company secretary is a strategic partner to the business, with increasing responsibility for governance.

The report claims that ‘Ultimately the company secretary is one of the key governance professionals, and a critical conduit between the board and the organisation’.

This is reflected in the updated UK Corporate Governance Code, which states that ‘All directors should have access to the advice of the company secretary, who is responsible for advising the board on all governance matters’.

Slightly more than an administrator, then.

However, although the role is expanding and becoming more accountable, this is not always mirrored by a commensurate increase in support or resource.

Similarly, the reality of the company secretary is also not always reflected in the way the role is viewed.

The Grant Thornton report notes that ‘there remains a legacy perception of the role…as one associated with company law and administration, rather than a key shaper of an organisation’s governance framework’.

With governance a key driver of business decisions and increasingly central to the way firms work – whether in regulated or unregulated industries – it’s essential that the part played by the company secretary is recognised and supported.

Some key stats on today’s company secretary

The Grant Thornton report is based on surveys and interviews with 105 board members from a range of organisations. These found that:

  • 80% say the role of the company secretary has increased in responsibilities and breadth
  • Regulation and the associated compliance requirements are seen as the main causes of increased responsibility
  • 38% have no team to support their governance role
  • 81% are responsible for producing board packs
  • 54% are involved in board recruitment
  • Technology take-up is inconsistent, with 62% using it for admin (board packs or electronic filing) and 14% for other tasks

Stepping up to a changing role

Company secretaries who want to adapt to meet the demands of their changing role have a challenge ahead.

Adopting a governance-focused, strategic partner position requires not just that you shoulder the responsibilities this gives you. It demands that the board and organisation as a whole see you as someone capable of taking on this expanded remit.

You need to ensure that:

  • Your organisation is behind the evolution of the role, and gives you the support you need in terms of resource and respect
  • Appropriate investments in technology are made to facilitate your role. Many organisations are using board portals, for instance, to remove some of the administrative burden from company secretaries and their teams
  • You have the skillset needed to deliver in your evolving role. Are you supported with training and guidance where necessary?

The demands on the company secretary are without doubt evolving and increasing. With the support of your board and organisation, you can grow with them to deliver results in an increasingly pressurised and governance-focused role.

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