This article outlines the role of a company secretary, and the different routes you can take to become qualified. Company secretaries enjoy a fast-paced career that exposes them to a variety of disciplines. They can work in an in-house role in both public and private sectors, as well as within professional intermediaries, or in a self-employed capacity. We discuss the options and benefits of becoming qualified, the differing levels of memberships attainable, and the career paths that are available.
What does a company secretary do?
A company secretary is fundamental in ensuring that compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements within an organisation are properly implemented and maintained. The role is key to ensuring that a company operates within the law. Whilst the role of a company secretary can encompass various duties, it can differ from company to company, depending on their size and sector. Some of the core responsibilities, include:
- Being responsible for the administrative obligations of a company.
This includes organising the board meetings and annual general meetings (AGMs), circulating agendas and minute taking, maintaining statutory books, and making filings at Companies House.
- Supporting the chairman in ensuring the board is performing effectively. This includes guiding the chairman and board on how to execute their responsibilities and comply with rules and regulations.
- Dissemination of information. Communication between the board and senior management, as well as non-executive directors and committees needs to be handled professionally and coherently.
- Being the channel of communication between shareholders and the board – keeping both parties up to date.
- Ensuring that legal and statutory requirements are being met (in relation to systems being used within the company).
- Maintaining an awareness of relevant legislation and any changes – adjusting where necessary.
- Overall responsibility for the facilities and schemes that the company might offer, e.g. HR, pension schemes, insurances and investor relations.
Why become a secretary?
There are a multitude of reasons that make becoming a company secretary an attractive proposition. Some of the key reasons for this include:
- Fast track to the board room – becoming a company secretary is often seen as a ‘fast track to the board room’ as the role often means you will be working with senior members of an organisation, dealing with sensitive matters, early on in your career. Given the experience they pick up, some company secretaries do end up making the jump into a full directorship role.
- Salary – As with many jobs, the salary you will be paid will be dependent on where you work, as well as the type of company you work for and what your role involves. As a Company Secretary Assistant outside of London, salaries can be in excess of £49,000; whereas the top earning Group Company Secretaries within London can command packages in excess of £201,000.
- Diverse range of responsibilities – the variety of work that company secretaries undertake means that you’ll be exposed to a wide range of departments and disciplines, helping you develop a broad skillset.
- Career paths – company secretaries have the flexibility of being able to work in different types of organisations and across sectors, including private, public and not-for-profit. It is possible to work for a professional services firm, in-house for a company or even as a sole practitioner.
How can I become a company secretary?
The first step to becoming a company secretary is ensuring that you have the right set of ‘soft skills’ to be able to perform the role effectively. These skills usually include:
- Excellent communication skills – both written and verbal
- Ability to work with colleagues at all levels
- Integrity – you need to take confidentiality seriously
- Having knowledge and an interest in governance and company law
- Ability to absorb and process lots of information
- Strong attention to detail
- Ability to multi-task
- Excellent planning and organisational skills
- An interest in law and corporate governance
The second key stage to becoming a secretary is obtaining a qualification. Whilst company secretaries in private companies are not required to have any formal qualifications or the necessary professional experience, the Companies Act 2006 demands company secretaries of public companies to have a formal accreditation.
This can be from bodies such as The Chartered Governance Institute, or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, etc. Nevertheless, it is considered desirable, and sometimes even expected, for the secretary of even a private company to have a formal qualification. For company secretaries, The Chartered Governance Institute is the key qualification here.
What is The Chartered Governance Institute?
The Chartered Governance Institute, formerly known as the Institute for Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, is the qualifying and membership body for governance professionals (company secretaries) in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Crown Dependencies and associated territories.
Sometimes referred to as “The Institute”, The Chartered Governance Institute provides a number of routes for attaining qualifications as a company secretary, including the primary route leading to chartered company secretary status (be it directly with The Institute or through an accredited university qualification). Here we discuss the three main paths: Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme, approved postgraduate courses, and non-chartered courses.
Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme
The Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme (CGQP) is the foremost route people use to gain chartered status. It involves undertaking eight modules across a variety of topics including company compliance administration, company law, risk management, and strategy. The programme can be undertaken either through self-study or through a registered tuition partner (Kensington College of Business or Campbells College), and usually takes between one and four years to complete.
Approved corporate governance postgraduate courses
Another popular route to becoming chartered is to undertake an approved full-time or part-time postgraduate course in corporate governance at one of 8 universities across the UK. These courses provide a dual-award partnership – a masters degree from university and The Institute’s own qualification. These courses will typically take between one and two years to complete. For more information, The Chartered Governance Institute has published a full list of validated postgraduate courses.
If becoming chartered is not for you, The Institute offers the ‘Certificate in Company Secretarial Practice and Share Registration Practice’. This course is far shorter than those that lead to chartered status, and provides a broad overview of the functions of a company secretary and share registration, as well as including the operational knowledge. Taught over four modules, the course fee is just £1,200 (including VAT). The course is available online and also as a part-time face-to-face basis – both options are provided by Kensington College of Business. You can find out more information about the course on the Certificate in Company Secretarial Practice and Share Registration page.
Other courses available
The Chartered Governance Institute also provides a selection of short course qualification training programmes to suit a variety of different professional levels. These include the Certificate in Fund Administration, Certificate in Charity Management, and Certificate in Employee Share Plans. A full list is available on The Institute’s short course qualifications page.
Membership levels available with The Chartered Governance Institute
By becoming a member of The Institute, you’ll benefit from being associated with an international community of governance professionals that’s recognised around the globe. You’ll enjoy regular updates and technical briefings, and will also have the opportunity to join a number of local branches around the UK that informal support for local networks of members with shared interests. To see all of the branches available, check out The Institute’s Local branches and groups page.
There are a number of ‘levels’ that members are organised into, dependent on the status of their examinations and workplace experience. Below is a summary of the available membership levels, and how to attain them.
All members who are studying for one of The Institute’s qualifications, be it the full Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme or the Certificate in Company Secretarial Practice and Share Registration Practice, become a student member, providing them with many of the benefits enjoyed by full members.
Affiliated Membership Status
Affiliate membership is available to those who are part qualified on the full Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme (they have completed the first four modules), those who have successfully passed the Certificate in Company Secretarial Practice and Share Registration Practice course, and those who have completed one of the Institute’s other short courses. Affiliates are entitled to use the post nominals ‘CG (Affiliated)’.
People who have undertaken and passed all the exams on the chartered company secretary route, or who have gained an accredited master’s degree in corporate governance, but who have not yet completed six years of relevant work experience (or three years if you are a degree holder or member of another professional body), are considered to have attained ‘Graduate’ status, and so are allowed to use the post nominals ‘GradCG’.
Members can progress to Associate status from Graduate status once they have obtained six years of relevant professional experience (or three in the case of degree holders or members of another professional body). Members who have reached Associates status can use the post nominals ‘ACG’.
Fellowship is the highest status an individual can hold as members of The Chartered Governance Institute. To progress to this level, members must also have held a senior position within a large organisation for at least 3 of the last 10 years. Fellows are permitted to use the post nominals ‘FCG’.
Transferring your membership
An advantage of being a Chartered or Affiliated member is the opportunity to live and work abroad – as a company secretary with chartered membership, you belong to an international governance community and can take advantage of being able to transfer your membership across nine divisions, which are namely: Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Southern Africa, UK, Republic of Ireland and Associated Territories and Zimbabwe. As well as these divisions, the Institute of Company Secretaries of India has an agreement with The Chartered Governance Institute which means the same transfer rights apply.
A career as a company secretary can be a very rewarding and varied role, offering the freedom to work abroad, as well as for private, public and non-for-profit organisations. The position involves a lot of responsibility and is dependent on the right person with the correct set of skills and knowledge to succeed.
With various routes into the job and plenty of accreditations and memberships to aim for, there is the potential to be highly valued and recognised as a professional within an industry of your choice. If you think being a company secretary is for you, contact The Chartered Governance Institute today to find out more.