In the corporate secretaries' world, no two days are the same. Positioned at the top of the company's structure, corporate secretaries play the leadership role in their organizations while helping other leaders make effective decisions and stay compliant with regulations. This report shares insights from practical experiences of corporate secretaries, describing the diversity of responsibilities integral to their role, the significance of their work for the company and the board and the unique skill set and toolset leveraged by co-secs to streamline their work.
Wearing Multiple Hats
The role of a corporate secretary spans diverse functions aimed at supporting the board of directors in their decision-making process while ensuring compliance with regulations. Corporate secretaries ensure the functioning of board committees, liaise between the board, committees and shareholders and provide oversight of governance, compliance and reporting.
In their role, corporate secretaries often have to alternate from offering granular administrative support to overseeing governance changes on the global level. In doing so, they need to be able to flex and adapt quickly, switching from working on simpler administrative tasks to the most strategic issues.
Also known as company secretaries in many jurisdictions, corporate secretaries, abbreviated as co-secs, are positioned at the executive leadership level, reflecting the importance of their position. Unlike executive assistants, corporate secretaries play a key role in board management, governance and compliance, as well as communication between key stakeholders in the organization.
Working as a Solo Corporate Secretary vs Part of the Team
Corporate secretaries working for smaller companies, startups or businesses which didn't have a governance function often have to work as solo professionals in their organizations. Under these circumstances, co-secs have to rely on their experience in fulfilling their duties and making decisions on their own while bearing all the pressures and handling day-to-day demands.
In contrast, larger established businesses often have one person bearing the title of corporate secretary assisted by a wider team of corporate secretaries for a collective effort. Such framework allows for delegating administrative tasks and activities to the team and allocating more time to focus on projects.
Providing Support to the Board of Directors
Corporate secretaries play a crucial role in supporting the board and board meetings, providing for all types of support functions from taking minutes, assisting with board pack preparations, providing for document circulation and following up the post-meeting actions.
When the board is assisted by corporate secretaries, the directors can rest assured that all details are attended to and that they have all the materials and data at hand before the meeting takes place.
Overseeing Governance and Compliance
In overseeing the governance and compliance aspect of an organization, corporate secretaries are involved in developing policies, governance frameworks and procedures to ensure the company and the board are aligned with the regulations according to the highest standard.
Being the focal person for governance and compliance advice to the board, corporate secretaries are often referred as governance professionals, who have to provide for constant oversight of changes in regulations. As governance consultants, corporate secretaries assist their organizations in promptly adapting to changes in regulations and board structures to ensure effective governance and compliance.
Interactions with Other Departments
Depending on the type of the company and its organizational structure, corporate secretaries can be positioned either in the finance, legal or compliance departments. However, coming from any of these departments doesn't limit the responsibilities of corporate secretaries who have to attend to various multi-disciplinary issues. Some examples of such involvement include KYC requests, handling sensitive information for the board or setting new bank accounts where board resolution is required.
In fulfilling their role, company secretaries need to keep open lines of communication with all departments across the entire organization. Company secretaries rely on effective collaboration with in-house counsel, finance department, compliance officers and other teams to ensure oversight of risks and various areas of the business and provide for governance and compliance across the board.
Coordination with Subsidiaries
When companies operate multiple legal entities across jurisdictions, corporate secretaries have to handle additional challenges stemming from differences in time zones, culture and practices, as well as regulatory requirements. Working in such businesses, company secretaries need to be regularly updated about the situation on global and local levels to ensure effective governance and compliance, reporting to the board and their other functions.
In doing so, corporate secretaries often have to spread their efforts across various entities and subsidiaries. Since such effort is hardly possible without support from the team, co-secs need to stay in touch with key contacts at each subsidiary and be able to delegate certain responsibilities to individual entities while keeping focus on group activity.
Co-Sec Skill Set and Toolset to Navigate Daily Challenges
In fulfilling their day-to-day duties, corporate secretaries have to leverage an extensive skill set to effectively process multiple data points, facilitate communication and provide for effective oversight. Working at leadership position while helping other leaders involves interactions with diverse personalities, which requires high communication and interpersonal skills. Corporate secretaries need to exhibit persistence and resilience to manage projects to completion while relying on their multitasking capabilities to switch among multiple projects and respond to various requests from the organization.
Given the complexity of modern businesses, the global reach of international companies and the ever-changing regulatory environment, corporate secretaries rely on technology and digital tools to streamline collaboration and work with multiple data points. Most often, such technology stack include board portal software to manage board packs and meetings, entity management software for managing subsidiaries, compliance and governance work, and other tools for project management, communication and document creation. In addition, corporate secretaries need to stay abreast of modern tools and technologies, including AI, for mundane routine tasks to free time for more strategic work.
Learn More with Athennian
Corporate secretaries fulfill one of the most multifaceted roles, spanning legal, finance and compliance sectors, assisting the board of directors in decision-making and providing for governance and compliance for their organizations. Acting as governance professionals for modern businesses, co-secs need strong professional and interpersonal skills and modern technology to fulfill their functions most effectively, manage a plethora of administrative tasks and attend to all aspects of the businesses and local subsidiaries.
The insights provided in this report are based on the webinar hosted by the Athennian team featuring Onyeka Nweze, the UK chartered corporate secretary with years of experience in the financial services and insurance sector. During the 46-minute webinar, Onyeka shares her unique perspective of working as a governance professional in a global organization, the challenges she faced in this role and best practices, skills and tools which can assist corporate secretaries in their work. For more information, please don't hesitate to check out the webinar page on the Athennian website for a full recording.