By John Sammut - Head, Internal Audit, MFSA
Steve Jobs once said: “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” Against the backdrop of the difficulties created by COVID-19, the Company Secretary has the opportunity to consider how an increasingly automated world through various technological advancements such as robotics and artificial intelligence, could assist both in improving governance as well as the role itself.
In many instances, the company secretary consumes a significant amount of time in allocated administrative responsibilities such as compiling notices, registers, compliance returns, agendas and taking down minutes during meetings of the company and of its board of directors. Such administrative responsibilities do reduce the capability of the company secretary to focus on other important areas such as strategy, research, problem-solving, representation, co-ordination and management of information systems.
For this reason, the Company Secretary cannot ignore the openings presented by technological advancements which offer the opportunity to manage the ever-increasing governance challenges and complex compliance requirements faced today by all organisations. through“e-transformation”, the company secretary can do away with traditional office work mechanism and implement“e-services” such as e-ipo, e-dividend, e-filing and e-groups.
Changes to legislation and regulations together with the latest news, updates, case laws and judgements can nowadays all be obtained through the click of a button.
Communication advancements also present the company secretary with the opportunity to facilitate more efficient board meetings. Video conference facilities can replace the traditional board meetings where all members have to be physically present at the organisation’s boardroom to discuss and decide on agenda items.
Besides, such facilities do reduce travel costs and time, particularly when international board members or subsidiaries of organisations are involved or located in different countries.
A board portal software could save company secretaries’ and directors’ time, to allow for more strategic work through electronic voting tools, submission of agenda, meeting minutes and messaging features.
Such facilities offer better security and also reduce time consumed in filing and retrieving the Company Secretary’s documentation and also space and costs involved in storage facilities. Better document management systems ensure the possibility of a paperless company secretarial documents, easier trace of documents and less storage space required.
The Company Secretary must keep abreast of digital skills by undertaking appropriate training and assists board members and other stakeholders to engage with the opportunities provided by technological advancements.
Such training is to include not only hands-on experience for board members on how to operate innovative IT systems but also increase their awareness of IT risks such as cybersecurity.
The ever-increasing cyber-related threats as a result of digitalisation can expose the Company Secretary’s custodian role of a large volume of sensitive information and records. A robust data and business recovery plan need to be in place to counteract the eventuality of a loss of data through breaches in information security governance.