Technology and the role of company secretaries: in a chat with Caroline Evans

We had the pleasure to chat with Caroline Evans, FCIS, the founder of MindLeap, a corporate governance boutique, and ask her a few questions on how she sees the role of governance professionals evolving and how emerging technologies can impact it.

Caroline partners with several organisations, connects and collaborates across the corporate governance community providing expert advice, practical support and guidance as a company secretary and corporate governance professional speaker at conferences. 

Prior to setting up her consultancy, Caroline worked closely with company secretaries in their pursuit of making it to the top. She provides advice at Link Asset Services, supporting their Company Matters division, works with Board Intelligence, a niche board information advisory practice, provides coaching and seminars on career decision-making for company secretaries, governance professionals and aspiring NEDs; and is a mentor for the Association of Women Chartered Secretaries.

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

GDPR – which may or may not fall under the company secretary’s remit – is only one of a number of significant new regulatory regimes that have impacted on business as the Government focuses on governance.

The FRC Code changes, Wates Principles and sector specific regulation such as the Senior Managers Regime for financial services entities have all added to the workload of the company secretary – and much more than has generally been recognised outside the secretariat. Already often undervalued and under-resourced, company secretaries are now even busier than ever, as the work involved in ensuring compliance with any new legislation is considerable.

How do you think emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain will impact the role of the Company Secretary in the future?

The company secretarial profession has been slow to embrace technology; for example, many boards do not yet have digital board packs. The challenge for the company secretary is two-fold: 1) how to embrace these developments and 2) how to usefully contribute once liberated from the administrative burden of the office.

It’s a time of great opportunity. Too often company secretaries stay behind the scenes, protecting the company and its directors. But if they are unseen their value remains unrecognised. As new technologies are rolled out, company secretaries will be able to focus on the interpretive aspects of their role, providing expert insight and influence to boards facing increasing complexity and challenges.

Very often the role of Company Secretaries is undervalued by boards and companies. What is your advice to them (the company secretaries)?

I would offer the following advice:

  • Make sure everyone knows what you do and that the door to the secretariat is always open.

  • Prove yourself to be a commercially-aware problem-solver, not a blocker to the boardroom.

  • Pre-emptively communicate across other departments and the business as a whole.

  • Actively network with your peer-group and beyond offering support and advice – both technical and in terms of wider professional development.

  • Be an advocate and ambassador of the profession, especially outside of your own employer.

In your experience, what do you think is the main barrier to good corporate governance?

Lack of true understanding of what corporate governance really means and recognition of its importance and impact. The culture of the company is pivotal and is the key that allows corporate governance to flourish. An influential and impactful company secretary who is respected and listened to is critical in ensuring the transparency and communication necessary to achieve good governance.

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

What really matters is diversity of thought. Diversity in terms of geography, race, gender, age or anything else are likely to encourage this; however, diversity only works if board members are prepared to listen to diverse views!