The world of legislation can often be difficult for a company to navigate. With more rules, regulations and procedures entering into the industry, every company needs someone to ensure that they meet all of their industry's required standards. This is where a company secretary comes in.
Company secretaries are highly-skilled and knowledgeable and the main communication bridge between high-level executives. This role requires hardworking, organised applicants who are constantly on top of any changes or developments in their respective industries.
What is a company secretary?
A company secretary ensures that a company is both financially and legally compliant. Despite this, company secretaries do not provide companies with legal advice, although they will have an advanced understanding of the laws that govern their industry.
Company secretaries are sometimes known as the company’s head of governance. Company secretaries are at the heart of all compliance and governance developments and will often have to liaise with financial, legal and governmental professionals.
A company secretary has several responsibilities. Your responsibilities may change depending on the organisation you work for.
The main responsibilities of a company secretary are:
- Ensure that all administration of the company is up to date, including updates to:
- Members register
- List of directors and board members
- Statutory books
- Minutes of annual general meetings (AGMs)
- Ensure that the company is operating within your sector’s rules and regulations.
- Support the board and ensure communication between board members and shareholders is clear and effective.
- Liaise with external regulators and advisers.
- Monitor changes in relevant legislation and laws and informing relevant parties of them.
- Pay dividends, manage share options and provide insight, advice and support for mergers and takeovers.
- Updating Companies House with all of the relevant information, including tax returns, news of the appointment of company secretary, audit reports and any significant changes regarding share capital and registered address changes in the executive structure.
It has also been known for company secretaries to take on additional responsibilities. Depending on the size of the organisation you work for, or their executive structure, you may be required to take over elements of human resource management, health and safety compliance or even the company pension scheme.
Typically, when starting in the industry, a trainee company secretary will earn between £20,000 and £35,000. When becoming an assistant company secretary, your salary will average between £55,000 and £80,000, although the assistant company secretary salary can vary from company to company.
The salaries can become even more lucrative as you rise through the ranks and as your company grows. If your company is part of a larger group, you may even be able to become the company secretary of the overall group, which can land a salary of as much as £300,000.
It is also worth bearing in mind that your industry and company largely dictate the company secretary salary you receive. Those working for large-scale companies are likely to earn much more than those working for small medium enterprises (SMEs). Those working for Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) companies have taken home large, incentivised bonuses on top of their salary.
A degree is not necessarily a requirement for this role. However, it is generally preferred by most employers. If you don’t have an undergraduate degree, then some employers have been known to accept those with a higher national diploma (HND).
For those looking to attend university, the best subjects to study in are:
Postgraduate qualifications are not necessary for this role; however, a master’s degree will help when it comes to applying. Industry qualifications are also essential; however, these will ordinarily be done as part of your initial work training rather than pre-application.
Training and development
One of the main development paths a company secretary will take is to attain chartered status. This status can only be achieved by completing the Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme, offered by the Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland (CGI). Those who have completed the Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme will become graduate members of the institute, who may also have company secretary vacancies listed there.
It is also possible to gain chartered status with other institutes too. For example, if you are working in finance, then you are able to apply to regulatory bodies such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
As you will often be working in regulated industries, you must complete a continuing professional development (CPD). If you join any industry-related regulatory bodies, they may ask you to carry these out, but on a less formal basis than those who must have industry-regulated qualifications like an accountant or an insurance broker.
Larger companies will offer chances for internal training sessions and may even pay for any external training you need. Your career development will largely be down to you and how you feel that you can improve, so it’s always an idea to keep an eye out on regulatory websites for any training courses like the CGI website. You may also be required to sit specific examinations such as the ICSA qualification, offered by the CGI.
Company secretaries need many skills to be successful in their role. The skills needed will also depend on how wide-ranging your remit within the company or organisation is.
The skills commonly needed for a company secretary are:
- An ability to listen to others.
- An analytical approach.
- Excellent interpersonal skills.
- Excellent management skills.
- Excellent teamwork skills.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
- The utmost discretion when handling confidential information.
- Unrivalled attention to detail.
- Vast and expansive knowledge of financial responsibilities and governance.
The skills needed for this role can be expanded upon or improved through further company secretary training and development.
Work experience at such a senior level is highly unlikely. This doesn't mean that you cannot find some form of work experience within a company somewhere. Employers tend to gravitate more towards those who have some form of experience in an office-based job and those who have shadowed relatively senior members of the company. This means doing work experience with a financial advisor, a financial manager or a marketing manager.
When applying for company secretary jobs, you will need to have some form of experience beforehand. This will generally mean having a professional qualification, a degree or work experience in areas such as credit control, personnel, accounting or insurance.
It is important to remember that people do not often apply for the role of a company secretary straight out of university. Generally, people tend to qualify for the role through work done in other areas of a business and then progress from there.
Of course, some smaller companies may hire you immediately, but you will have far less success with large enterprises.
The most common career progression for people to take is to apply for chartered status. The CGI offers chartered status. Those who have been a member with at least eight years of senior-level experience can also apply for fellow status.
One of the most important aspects of your role is keeping up to date with developments in your industry. This means keeping an eye on legislation changes, subscribing to professional journals such as the Governance & Compliance magazine offered by the CGI or various handbook releases from the CGI.
It is possible to become a board member with sufficient experience. This will not always be relevant for some companies as they may consider a company secretary on the board as a conflict of interest; however, it is possible to become a board member and serve as a port of call for the next company secretary after you.
If you are looking for work with smaller companies, it is possible to apply for part-time company secretary jobs. These will still be well-paid, given the amount of experience required for the role, however, the role will have less responsibilities than more full-time positions.