We take a look at how the recruitment market has performed in the first six months of 2019
Resilient is a word many would use to describe the company secretarial recruitment market as we reach the mid-way point in 2019. Resilient despite all the political infighting that seems to dominate the headlines in print and on screen. Resilient despite the ongoing uncertainly around Brexit and resilient despite current volatility in the global markets.
The statistics speak for themselves when we compare recruitment activity with the same period last year. At Group level, there has been a 17% increase in the number of instructions, 80% of which are coming from large private groups and small cap companies recruiting their first dedicated company secretary. Those responsible for recruitment at this level include global heads of HR, FDs and CEOs who all cite the need for a ‘commercial’ company secretary to help the company achieve its long-term strategic objectives through the construction of a robust governance framework.
Inadequate succession planning or an unexpected resignation make up the remainder of the instructions at this level. Losing a Group Company Secretary is rarely ideal. However most companies use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the company secretarial needs of the business, especially if the person leaving has been in post for a long time. Salaries still vary between company type and sector. However, fast-growing international businesses are paying top end (£175k-220k base salary) to attract and secure the best talent.
The Deputy level has seen the largest relative percentage increase in the number of instructions, with a rise of 23%. Evidence suggests that 43% of these are newly-created roles within smaller functions of regulated businesses where growth and increasing regulation/legislation necessitates an experienced no.2 to run the function day-to-day and manage the team. This frees up the Group Company Secretary to service the Board and assist with project work and addresses the need to reduce internal risk through improved succession planning. The remainder of these roles are direct replacements for those that have secured positions elsewhere. For those companies in a steady state where the incumbent Company Secretary has no immediate/mid-term intention of moving on or retiring, they should expect to retain their Deputy for, on average, 3-6 years. This variation very much depends on the amount of ongoing/future corporate activity and/or commercial change – activity that will often keep a Deputy engaged and motivated to stay longer in post.
By volume, the Assistant Company Secretary level is where most of the recruitment activity seems to be. This segment has seen a 14% increase compared to 2018 yet presents the biggest challenge when it comes to finding talent to fill these roles. Employers are often surprised to learn that newly qualified company secretaries with 3-4 years’ experience can now command £60k and have responded by locking in their top talent through above inflationary pay rises, good bonuses and enhanced share options. The recruiters who for so many years relied on a database of readily available candidates are now almost exclusively headhunting at this level. 76% of Assistant level roles filled in the months January to June were with individuals that were not actively seeking a career move. This demonstrates that Assistants looking to progress their careers are more than prepared to leave their current roles in order to fill much needed skills and knowledge gaps. Senior Assistants working in regulated businesses can expect a slight premium of up to 10% for their experience with salaries topping out around the £100k mark within the large banks and insurers.
Demand for Company Secretarial Assistants has remained consistent with a modest 8% increase in the number of jobs registered. Given all the efforts made over the past few years to attract students and graduates into the company secretarial profession (DMJ Insight Days and university milk rounds), I am pleased to report a corresponding increase in the number of trainees with 1-3 years’ experience actively looking to secure a company secretarial assistant role. Of note is how the academic backgrounds of trainees differ to those entering the profession just 5 years ago. 71% of trainees have a law degree and/or LPC and are committed to a company secretarial career. This compares to 48% five years ago and reflects how the profession is successfully attracting high calibre individuals that would have otherwise pursued the legal route. Though there is still some work to be done, assuming this upward trend continues, this should alleviate some pressure at the Assistant level over the next few years.
Company secretaries are living proof that resilience is an important part of growth and change, so despite an October Brexit deadline, a new Prime Minister and ongoing global tension, the future demand for governance professionals looks more promising now than it has done for years.
David Press is Managing Director at DMJ