Time is the most important resource in business. Whether it's the time it takes to deliver new products to market, the time it takes to respond to a customer's questions, the time it takes for a package to arrive after being ordered or the time it takes internally to come to a conclusion on a key question that will define a business's strategic direction. The pace of business is only quickening and firms need to have the right tools available to balance and maximize everyone's available amount of time in order to increase speed and operational efficiency. This concept of the need for speed and efficiency is epitomized among some of the largest organizations in the world. Just ask Jeff Immelt from General Electric, who stated, 'We are putting a premium on speed,' in a recent letter to shareholders, or Ginni Rometty, who's trying to revive IBM, who told a New York Times journalist that, 'the silver bullet is speed.' Arguably no profession has seen as profound a change as those working in corporate secretarial or governance departments. There have been numerous changes in legislation, such as the UK Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 or the USA's Dodd-Frank and FATCA acts. These individuals have seen their roles evolve from administrators of a company's books to becoming leaders of governance, risk and stakeholder management. A Deloitte survey in 2017 pointed to the increased burden of regulation and oversight now placed on corporate secretaries, particularly after the financial crash of 2008. There is an increased number of reporting and disclosures required, such as the UK's Person of Significant Control Register and other similar versions in other European Union countries due to the 4th Directive on Anti-Money Laundering. External stakeholders are also more demanding of a corporate secretary's time, and it is important to be able to manage institutional and individual investors as part of the role. A shareholder engagement policy is a requirement of Hong Kong's Corporate Governance Code, but it is always important to maintain a two-way information flow with key funders in order to manage and control the engagement. As the role continues to evolve, so do the skills required to succeed. The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators list that Corporate Secretaries should have a broad skill set covering such disparate areas as Corporate Finance, Strategy and Legal Knowledge. In addition, governance professionals need to be able to influence colleagues at all levels of the business, even up to the board of directors. It is important for all corporate secretaries to make time for continued personal development, networking with peers and keeping updated on the latest investor trends and regulatory demands. It's also critical to remember that individuals have lives of their own, and must be allowed time to flourish and pursue passions outside of work in order to make them more productive and effective in their roles. Work-life balance is increasingly important, with the Australian Institute of Business naming three key advantages: Health Benefits (and less absenteeism), greater focus and productivity in the office, and fewer burnouts that can affect all areas of an individual's life. So how can people balance these evolving and changing demands for more of their time? We believe the answer lies in having the right tools in place to achieve two things: efficiency and confidence. Effective data management lies at the heart of this. It is important that all data required by stakeholders or regulators be available to the modern corporate secretary at the touch of a button. This should include not just current information, but historical tracking of changes across entities and individual responsibilities. The data should be consistent, easy to find for those who need it, and yet secure from those who don't. Around this core dataset should sit the workflows and processes to ensure it can be leveraged quickly and accurately in reports or actions that can be easily ready by external and internal stakeholders. Doing transactions or managing changes in bulk should be a feature of these processes. Time can be saved in the production of relevant paperwork. If these tools are in place, the Corporate Secretary can also experience time benefits from confidence. Knowing your data is correct and can be leveraged quickly means less time will need to be spent preparing for and combating a potential crisis. If the workflows are transparent, there can be confidence that the business can easily identify any bottlenecks or potential issues caused by, for example, a long-term absence. This can even lead to a competitive advantage for firms, as staff are freed up from combating issues and can focus on the opportunities that may arise in certain jurisdictions that some companies may not have the skills and effort required to tackle. If the processes in place are consistent, the firm can have confidence that it can move into new markets and territories more quickly, leading to a potential first-mover advantage. To summarize, as the corporate secretary role continues to evolve, time management will become an increasingly important skill for individuals and the organizations that support them. With effective data that can be leveraged efficiently and with confidence, corporate secretaries are able to gain more time to focus on being more effective leaders of governance, to the benefit of not just their company but the wider industry as well. At Blueprint, we believe in these values of confidence and efficiency, and we believe that we can help organizations find the way to do so through our Governance Cloud and Blueprint OneWorld, a software product already trusted by over 1,500 of the world's leading companies across a range of industries. This article was written by Andy Harker. Andy has been a Blueprint specialist within ICSA Software, now Blueprint OneWorld, for almost four years. As Regional Sales Director for EMEA, he is passionate about finding solutions for organizations and individuals that make them more effective leaders in their fields.
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