Technology and the role of company secretaries: in a chat with Natasha Jamal

This week we chatted with Natasha Jamal, Assistant Company Secretary at Smith & Nephew plc. She is responsible for day to day liaison with shareholders, suppliers and department customers as well as global company secretarial compliance with local entities. She also acts as Secretary to one of the Smith & Nephew plc Board Committees.

Prior to Smith & Nephew, Natasha worked within GlaxoSmithKline plc’s company secretarial department in the Plc & Shareholder services team. She initially started in the profession as a Trainee on the TMF Corporate Secretarial Graduate scheme in 2012.

Over recent years, how have changing regulatory environments impacted the work effort required in company secretarial functions (e.g. GDPR)?

Even in my relatively short career, I have certainly seen first-hand how the evolving regulatory landscape has impacted the company secretarial function. Notwithstanding the function of the Company Secretary varying from organisation and industry, I believe the increase in regulations has certainly led to an increased workload for the profession. A prime example being the implementation of the Market Abuse Regulation. Company Secretariat need to continually be abreast on the changing environment so that it can establish which changes will (directly) affect the company and provide the Board and organisation with the support it needs to meet and adhere to such to ensure compliance.

How do you think emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain will impact the role of governance professionals like yourself in the future?

I think even with movement in the form of virtual meetings and electronic software, the real impact of AI and blockchain technologies remains to be truly seen in the company secretarial field. I myself have had little involvement in the more innovative elements, which appear to remain in an embryonic state but think that as the technologies continue to evolve over time and are of widespread use it will certainly provide an opportunity for Company Secretariats to gain efficiencies, particularly around some of the more administrative aspects of the function. However, it will certainly be interesting to see how AI and blockchain or other evolving technologies have, if any, impact on the Company Secretariat’s advisory and strategic functions.

Do you think that board members fully understand the company secretary's role?

I think a sign of a good Company Secretary is one who is accustomed to providing an administrative, strategic and advisory function from the background. An excellent Company Secretary is able to fulfil this but also pro-actively voices and demonstrates the work they have undertaken, on an ongoing basis, to convey the importance of the role and the value it brings to an organisation. Given the close working relationship between board members and the Company Secretary, I think board members are aware of a Company Secretary’s full role including the work undertaken ‘behind the scenes’ but think there is more to be done in improving the understanding of the role by Senior Executives and by those outside of the profession.  

What do think is the main barrier to good corporate governance?

There are many barriers to good corporate governance, which I believe vary between organisations and industries but generally speaking I think one of the main barriers is the approach of ‘one size fits all’ and the continuing use of an initially agreed framework without continually evaluating whether it remains the right one over time. The landscape for companies is ever evolving and I think the corporate governance framework in place needs to reflect this.  

There's a lot of talk around diversity in the boardroom, also beyond gender. What are your thoughts on this?

I think diversity is key to any organisation, at all levels not just the boardroom and so it is great that progress has been made in terms of identifying other factors, which contribute towards creating diversity beyond gender. I do however think it is paramount that an individual’s skills and merits are the primary factors that sees them as ‘the best person for the job’ and therefore appointed rather than any form of diversity tick box exercise being implemented.