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Redefined by technology

16 May 2017 by David Press

Role of the co sec: Redefined by technology - read more

Priorities in company secretarial recruitment have altered, says David Press

Over the past 10 years we have witnessed how technology has redefined aspects of the company secretarial role, creating a more dynamic, efficient and agile workforce. Technology-driven efficiency has contributed to the reduction of average headcount within the secretariats of FTSE 100 companies from seven to four between 2005 and 2009.

Headcount plateaued during the depths of the global financial crisis and in recent years the average team size has actually risen slightly to 4.5 due to increased regulation and corporate governance. That said, this is still a lean average considering the scope, variety and importance of the work involved.

Global entity management and digital meeting software, such as Blueprint and BoardPad, are now commonplace within UK corporates and form part of the fabric of any modern secretariat. We are witnessing the emergence of virtual AGMs and intelligent verification software that could further automate aspects of the company secretarial role.

“As investment in technology increases, so too does individual work capacity, leading to a corresponding shift in the nature and scope of the role”

Time and cost reduction drives much of this progress. Although the initial outlay may be high, the investment pays for itself over the long term through efficient workflow and a more agile workforce. It seems that as investment in technology increases, so too does individual work capacity, leading to a corresponding shift in the nature and scope of the role. In recent years, the role of a company secretary has broadened and become more commercially aligned. Commercial and ethical decisions cannot yet be made by a computer – the logic and thinking around those decisions go way beyond anything a piece of software or complex algorithm can solve.

The impact on recruitment has been profound. Much of the work a more senior company secretary will have typically undertaken 15 years ago (for example, filing annual returns, maintenance of the statutory register or meetings administration) is now deftly administered by more junior team members using technology. These skills form the backbone of the modern company secretarial career, reinforcing the ICSA studies through practical application.

At this level, hiring managers are now less concerned about recruiting company secretarial administrators with existing technical skills, as these can be easily taught to a generation shaped by the digital age.

It is the softer skills that are harder to find, such as the ability to interact with colleagues and more senior individuals with confidence and credibility. Recruiters, HR and hiring managers expect to gain an authentic, genuine view of the person. To achieve this, interviews have become less formal and formulaic in order to assess the cultural fit. At the junior level, interviews now evaluate the mindset and problem-solving capacity of potential applicants. Within small teams, collaborative mindsets and cultural fit are essential.

“Emphasis within the FTSE 100 has shifted towards finding those capable of taking ownership of broader, more commercial roles”

This also filters through to the mid-level, where emphasis within the FTSE 100 has shifted towards finding those capable of taking ownership of broader, more commercial roles – likely to include projects such as group restructurings and corporate M&A. More senior company secretaries need to be able to advise and influence at the most senior level and are relied upon by the board to help realise the group’s longer-term strategic objectives.

At the most senior level there is a constant drive to improve efficiency. Many are looking at next generation robotics to automate further aspects of the role, therefore reducing costs and in some cases headcount. For most companies, however, this is finely balanced with the need for minimum critical mass and a sustainable long-term succession plan.

The profession now demands individuals with IQ, EQ and IT in equal measure to meet the changing expectations and challenges of the role. Coupled with the high profile of corporate governance within UK companies, this is having the positive effect of attracting high-calibre graduates and skilled individuals from other professions, especially law, keen to enter a career they may have previously overlooked.

We cannot slow the pace of technological change. This means those working within the profession need to adapt and change continually. Those who do not keep pace risk being left behind.

David Press is Managing Director at DMJ

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