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The Company Secretariat of the Future

Chris Hodge (ICSA) talks about how technology is changing the work of company secretaries.

by Chris Hodge 2 min

    In my previous post, I identified some of the most direct impacts that technological change is having, and will continue to have, on how company secretaries carry out their day job – for example, enabling administrative tasks to be done more efficiently and accurately, and requiring them to exercise judgement and discretion when considering how data is used and potentially abused.

    However, the most profound impacts on company secretaries may be more indirect ones that affect the organisations for which they work.

    Technology Is Changing Ways of Working at All Levels

    We are living in a time when the way organisations operate is changing fundamentally, as is their relationship with the world in which they operate. Technological change is not the only driver, by any means, but it is a significant one.

    Technology is changing ways of working at all levels. Some of the largest global companies have little physical presence in the “real world”. Some established businesses find their markets disappearing as new tech-based business models emerge, while others have used technology to transform their production and other processes. Even the smallest and simplest organisations are dependent on technology to some extent simply to be able to function.

    Technology is also transforming the relationship between organisations, their stakeholders and society. To take an obvious example, social media has given consumers and critics an outlet they never had before, and as a result their voices are louder and more influential. Ten per cent of company secretaries surveyed by ICSA for its ‘Next Generation Governance’ research report last year believe that the public now has more influence on their organisation than anyone else, including regulators and their sources of funding.

    Implications for Company Secretaries and Their Team

    That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what has any of that got to do with the company secretary and their team?

    Well, all of these examples have led to significant changes and challenges for the boards of those organisations. The expectations that are placed on boards by the public, politicians and regulators are perhaps greater than ever before, as are the different considerations that they need to factor into their decision-making. The governance arrangements they have relied on may no longer be entirely fit for purpose, as lines of accountability both within and outside the organisation become tangled or blurred.

    It is the job of the secretariat to provide the board with the advice and support it needs to cope with all of this. It will be challenging for them, just as it will be challenging for the board itself. Boards may become even more reliant on the secretariat as they struggle to cope with the volume and complexity of the issues they have to deal with.

    Company secretaries will still be called on by boards to provide expert advice on regulation, strategy, practice and procedure, and to ensure the effectiveness of the organisation’s governance and compliance processes. As regulation and compliance in particular becomes more complex and intrusive this advice will be needed more than ever, as will the technology and other tools the secretariat rely on to stay on top of the job.

    While the balance of how the secretariat spends its time may shift, and the specific topics it has to get to grips with will evolve, I don’t expect the essential functions and responsibilities of the company secretariat to change in the future. It is a case of more of the same, and to an even higher standard than before.

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    Chris Hodge
    Chris Hodge

    Independent Advisor – ICSA | Chris Hodge is an independent advisor on governance and regulation. For ten years, Chris was Director of Corporate Governance at the Financial Reporting Council in the UK. In that capacity he was responsible for developing and promoting the UK Corporate Governance Code and related guidance, and for introducing the first national stewardship code for investors. Chris is currently an advisor to ICSA: The Governance Institute and the International Corporate Governance Network amongst others.