Viviane Joynes is Managing Director at EQS Group, a leading international provider of regulatory technology in corporate compliance and investor relations. She works closely with company secretarial, compliance and investor relations teams, helping them use technology to increase efficiency and reduce risk.
Please tell us about yourself.
This is always a tricky interview question! I’ll do my best. I run EQS Group’s UK office. We provide digital compliance and investor relations solutions to governance, compliance and IR professionals. From our London office we look after clients in the UK, Ireland and Italy. I’ve been working with and advising companies in the UK and Europe across a broad range of governance, compliance and investor relations topics since the mid-2000s. As the governance landscape has continually evolved, there have always been new topics and challenges to face and find solutions for. It’s certainly kept things interesting.
Outside of work, I love nature and generally being active outdoors, whether in the UK, France (where I was born and grew up) or further afield. Sometimes these worlds collide. For example last weekend, my team and I completed a challenge to walk/run 50 kilometres in one day. It was a brilliant day out, with everyone pushing themselves and working together to achieve a goal.
EQS Group offers a digital compliance solution. Can you tell us more about it and how it helps governance professionals?
We are a regtech company and provide a suite of digital solutions that aim to increase efficiency, reduce risk and improve stakeholder reach. Our clients include company secretaries and governance professionals more generally as well as compliance managers and HR professionals at companies ranging from FTSE 100 to AIM and unlisted organisations. More specifically, these solutions include the distribution of regulatory news and insider list management - particularly relevant to listed companies. We also provide a sophisticated whistleblowing reporting and case management solution as well as a policy management tool to improve workflows and ensure that sensitive information is stored securely. All of these solutions help our clients either meet their regulatory obligations or better monitor and improve their compliance programme.
What would you say to all company secretaries who are frightened of new technology?
I think it’s often not so much about being scared of technology but more about how busy company secretaries are. Sometimes it’s difficult to find time to take a step back and question the way things are done and how they could be improved. Health checks are a useful tool to identify and prioritise areas of improvement. There are so many great digital solutions on the market that help remove the administrative workload, allowing company secretaries and their teams to focus on the areas that add more value like being a sounding board to the Chairman and supporting the Board more generally.
I would also recommend that company secretaries take the time to ‘try before you buy’. Most companies will provide a test period for their software. They can then play around and see if the solution really does provide the benefits it claims to (without any obligation to buy).
Where do you see AI and blockchain going?
There are so many use cases for AI and blockchain, the possibilities are endless in terms of automation and creating efficiencies. Some relevant examples that spring to mind (in addition to Cygnetise’s authorised signatory solution) are blockchain solutions for shareholder voting and versioning document drafts such as Annual Reports as well as AI to detect suspicious behaviours. The way I see the application of AI and blockchain evolving is that a lot of the more administrative tasks will become increasingly automated over time. I hope company secretarial teams will welcome these changes. They will have more time to focus on tasks that add more value to the Boards and companies they work for.
While questions have been asked about AI replacing Company Secretaries, I really don’t see this happening. Company secretaries are often described as the conscience of an organisation and we’re a long way off robots having a conscience.
Women in the boardroom. What’s your advice to those who wish to reach board levels?
Don’t be frightened to put yourself forward. I mean this in the more general sense throughout your career, not just with regard to Board positions. I’m generalising but women will often be more hesitant about putting themselves forward for opportunities than men, believing for example that they don’t have the right experience, education etc when actually they are well qualified. I’m sure that when most of us take on big projects and roles, we have doubts. This is normal. It’s only by putting ourselves forward that we find out what we’re really capable of.
I would also recommend seeking out a mentor or coach, someone you can related to, who can be a sounding board and provide advice. I’ve had a few people I can turn to throughout my career and this has been critical, particularly when making big decisions.
You ran 3,850km across Europe for the British Red Cross following your grand mother’s footsteps as a refugee after World War II. What was the main challenge (distance apart)? What’s the most important lesson you learned?
In terms of challenges there were many but one comes to mind in particular. When I crossed the border into Spain in November, my 6th country (I started in Poland), I had never really expected to get that far and hadn’t looked at the topography of the route in any detail. I was caught in terrible weather in the mountains near Pamplona. Not having any real experience of mountains especially in the winter I knew that continuing on my planned route through the centre of Spain would be dangerous. I needed to make a decision. So instead of abandoning or postponing, I decided to take a train to the coast and head south towards Tarifa from Barcelona. I felt like I was letting myself and others down at the time but also knew it was the right decision. A big lesson in planning but also staying flexible when circumstances change.
There were many takeaways that I still try to remind myself of almost 5 years on. I’ve taken a look at what I noted down at the time and the points still remain true and also apply to business and work.
Breaking large projects into manageable and achievable goals is essential to being productive and avoiding that overwhelming feeling. Cultivating a positive mindset and thoughts is crucial to everything. Most importantly, by putting ourselves outside of our comfort zones we are able to achieve more than we ever thought possible. While hugely uncomfortable at times (I’m not going to pretend otherwise), this is genuinely where the magic happens.
What will be your next challenge?
My current and next challenge is of a different kind. My focus is building the EQS Group business in the UK, Ireland and Italy with my wonderfully talented team so that we can support company secretaries and governance professionals.