07 November 2017 by David Venus
The approval of the two initiatives by members is just the beginning for ICSA
Convincing majorities approved the two major initiatives at the recent annual general meeting of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.
This means that, subject to Privy Council approval expected early next year, each of our nine international Divisions will be able to introduce the new intermediate level of affiliate membership and the new designation and qualification of chartered governance professional.
Each Division is able to decide when, how and if to introduce these initiatives; for example, UKRIAT is proposing to qualify future students as chartered secretaries and chartered governance professionals simultaneously.
We need reform. Membership has continued to fall across the majority of our Divisions in spite of the worldwide focus on good governance. We are the leading global qualifying body for governance professionals but we are not winning our fair share of the new governance roles being created worldwide.
Your international Council concluded that we are seen by many as the home for corporate secretaries only and not the qualifying and natural membership organisation for all those carrying out roles in the wider world of governance.
We have always been a broad church and to maintain and enhance this mission, we need a new class of membership and a new designation capturing the word ‘governance’ alongside chartered secretary. I am delighted that the membership has shared this view, ensuring that these reforms have been adopted before other professional bodies step into the vacuum.
Business has changed. 50 years ago the vast majority of a company’s assets appeared on its balance sheet. Today, it is estimated that 80% of a public company’s assets do not appear on its balance sheet at all, and it is also true of many other organisations.
Reputation, trust, IT, intellectual property, and employee engagement are substantial drivers of any organisation’s value.
These intangible assets are inextricably linked to good governance and the huge role that our present and future members will play in preserving and increasing the value of these assets should not be underestimated. This gives us added responsibility but a bright future and we now have new qualifications to attract many others to join us.
Engagement with the membership in the run up to the AGM was impressive. In UKRIAT alone, there were over 20 ‘town hall’ meetings with students and members throughout the UK, Ireland and elsewhere.
“We have always been a broad church and to maintain and enhance this mission, we need a new class of membership and a new designation”
The vast majority of those who attended the meetings were in support of the proposals but a wide range of views were expressed, ranging from those who thought the initiatives endangered the ‘purity’ of the profession to those who thought the proposals did not go far enough.
We are grateful for all the comments and observations received and these will inform the approach to implementing the reforms and our next steps.
A common theme was that the Council’s original stance on the ‘transitioning’ of Associate Members to chartered governance professionals was insufficiently generous, chiefly on the grounds that a large number of Associates have many years of experience handling governance roles.
The Council listened to these views and agreed to widen the criteria for transitioning:
In a nutshell, all students and members who have qualified or will qualify under the present qualifying exams for chartered membership will be able to call themselves a chartered secretary or a chartered governance professional, or both, depending on their roles and their audience, when they meet the criteria.
There were members who expressed concern that there could be confusion, particularly among employers, between the status and capabilities of affiliate and chartered members. I do not believe this will happen.
Affiliates will not be chartered and may not describe themselves as such and will be awarded the post-nominals of CIS (Affiliated) which will clearly distinguish their class of membership.
Each of our Divisions will be engaging with employers and regulators to ensure that the market readily understands the difference between the new intermediate level and the gold standard of chartered. Many professional bodies in the UK and elsewhere have different levels of membership and the distinction is well understood in their markets.
What about those members who think that the reforms do not go far enough? Well, we need evolution not revolution, but they are right that we must maintain the momentum of reform to position us for a marketplace focused on good governance.
This could mean a change of name for our International body and the Council will be considering this in the coming months, with the views of members important in informing any proposal.
The Council will also be considering the enormous impact that technology will continue to have on our profession and we need to ensure that our exams and training properly equip us for the future.
This will undoubtedly mean a greater emphasis on personal development and the ‘softer skills’ because it is in these areas that we can deliver real added value to our organisations.
Reform is not an end in itself. We must now publicise the new initiatives effectively, increase public awareness of our profession and increase our relevance. That is the immediate challenge of the international Council and each of our Divisions and branches. I would encourage every member to play their part in this.
The reforms are probably the most outward-looking in the 126 year history of our Institute. I firmly believe that they will significantly enhance the standing of our Institute worldwide and the career opportunities of present and future members.