If you are highly organised and have an interest in the management of business then a career as a company secretary could be ideal for you
Company secretaries are responsible for ensuring that an organisation complies with standard financial and legal practice and maintains high standards of corporate governance. Although, not strictly required to provide legal advice, they must have a thorough understanding of the laws that affect their areas of work.
A company secretary, also known as head of governance, holds a strategic position at the heart of governance operations within an organisation and acts as a point of communication between the board of directors and company shareholders - and in some cases an organisation's executive management.
As a company secretary, you'll need to:
- report to the chairman and often liaise with board members
- organise and prepare agendas and papers for board meetings, committees and annual general meetings (AGMs)
- take minutes, draft resolutions, and lodge required forms and annual returns with Companies House
- follow up on actions from meetings
- oversee policies, making sure they are kept up to date and referred to the appropriate committee for approval
- maintain statutory books, including registers of members, directors and secretaries
- deal with correspondence, collate information and write reports, ensuring decisions made are communicated to the relevant company stakeholders
- contribute to meeting discussions as and when required, and advise members of the legal, governance, accounting and tax departments of the implications of proposed policies
- monitor changes in relevant legislation and the regulatory environment and take appropriate action
- liaise with external regulators and advisers, such as lawyers and auditors
- take responsibility for the health and safety of employees and manage matters related to insurance and property
- develop and oversee the systems that ensure the company complies with all applicable codes, in addition to its legal and statutory requirements
- pay dividends and manage share option schemes
- take a role in share issues, mergers and takeovers
- maintain the register of shareholders and monitor changes in share ownership of the company - in a publicly listed company
- monitor the administration of the company's pension scheme - may be a requirement in some smaller companies
- oversee and renew insurance cover for employees, equipment and premises
- enter into contractual agreements with suppliers and customers
- manage office space and property as well as deal with personnel administration
- oversee public relations and aspects of financial management.
- Salaries for trainees generally start at around £30,000.
- Assistant company secretaries can earn around £40,000 to £70,000, rising to £54,000 to £102,000 for deputy company secretaries.
At the top end of the salary scale, company secretaries working for FTSE companies can earn significant six-figure salaries, with five figure bonuses.
Salaries vary depending on the sector, location and the size and type of an organisation.
Income data from ICSA - The Governance Institute. Figures are intended as a guide only.
The work is mainly office based. Company secretaries generally work normal office hours, although it may be necessary to work longer hours to accommodate lengthy meetings and to complete reports, such as the company annual report, for regulatory deadlines.
Part-time work is available.
What to expect
- Work is mainly office based.
- Formal business wear is generally expected.
- There are many opportunities for experienced company secretaries to be self-employed or to work freelance. Chartered accountants and solicitors in sole private practice often take on a company secretary role for small local businesses. Chartered secretaries - those qualified via ICSA - may also work as sole traders, in partnerships or companies, offering company secretarial services, or in professional practices, offering similar services as part of a larger organisation.
- Jobs are widely available. Opportunities exist in most major towns and cities, although positions with blue chip companies are mainly at head offices in London and larger cities.
- Travel during the working day and absence from home overnight may be required, particularly with larger companies that have subsidiaries or multiple sites.
- Overseas work or travel is uncommon, unless working for an international company.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following subjects may be preferred and can offer some exemptions from the professional examinations:
- accountancy and finance
- business and management
A good honours degree is necessary when applying to larger firms. Graduates are preferred by some employers, while others may consider candidates with relevant HND subjects and good interpersonal skills.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed, but professional qualifications, particularly the ICSA examinations, which lead to the designation 'chartered secretary', are essential for public limited company secretaries and strongly advisable for those in private limited companies.
You will need to have:
- good verbal and written communication skills
- interpersonal skills and the ability to work well with people at all levels
- attention to detail and a well-organised approach to work
- the ability to prioritise work and to work well under pressure
- the capability to work with numerical information, plus analytical and problem-solving skills
- a diplomatic approach and the confidence to provide support to high-profile company staff and board members
- management skills
- teamworking skills
- integrity and discretion when handling confidential information
- a sound grasp of corporate governance issues
- a commercial frame of mind.
You will need to gain significant professional experience for this role and employers will usually look for a professional qualification.
Some graduates qualify as lawyers or accountants with the aim of becoming company secretaries later, while others may consider a full-time diploma course leading to a full or partial ICSA qualification.
For the majority, however, formal training in company secretarial work starts after a few years of administrative work experience. Relevant roles may be administrative in nature rather than in name, so suitable experience can be gained in areas such as:
- credit control
- office management
- sales administration.
Company secretaries work in a range of different organisations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Only public Iimited companies are legally required to appoint a company secretary. However, it is still necessary for private companies to take responsibility for compliance and liaise with regulatory bodies.
Depending on your own interests and experience, the following types of organisations may offer relevant opportunities:
- accountancy and solicitors' firms
- banks and building societies
- charities and hospitals
- educational institutions
- employers' cooperatives
- housing associations
- insurance companies
- investment trusts
- local and central government
- trade bodies.
It's also possible to find work with a consultancy that provides company secretarial services to companies who outsource this function, or in self-employment as a sole practitioner or in a small partnership.
Look for job vacancies at:
- ICSA - Governance, risk and compliance jobs
- Law Society Gazette
- Local Government Jobs
- Third Sector Jobs
Vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as DMJ Recruitment.
Most company secretaries gain chartered status with ICSA by completing the ICSA Chartered Secretaries Qualifying Scheme (CSQS), which consists of the following modules:
- financial reporting and analysis
- applied business law
- corporate law
- corporate governance or health service governance
- financial decision making
- corporate secretarial practice
- strategy in practice
- chartered secretaries case study.
The CSQS typically takes between two and six years to complete, depending on exemptions based on existing qualifications, as well as the number of modules studied simultaneously. Anyone may register for the scheme and some companies provide time off and support while studying. You may undertake self-study, part or full-time study at a college or by distance learning supported by on-the-job supervised experience. Completion of the eight modules gives you ICSA graduate status (GradICSA).
It's also possible to take an ICSA accredited Masters course in governance at one of ICSA's partner universities, which leads to the university's postgraduate award in addition to GradICSA.
Financial assistance for training may be available through the Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.
Once you have achieved GradICSA and have completed up to six years professional experience, three of which can be working while studying, you can apply for Associate status. On becoming an Associate, you are officially a chartered secretary and can use the post-nominal ACIS.
Public limited company secretaries may gain chartered status with other organisations such as the:
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).
You may find an opportunity to train while working. Any degree subject is usually acceptable and this kind of training may be advertised as administrative-training schemes for general management trainees. Likely places for these schemes include:
- local government
- professional services companies
- public limited companies
- the public sector
- share registration agencies.
See the ICSA website for details of employers offering training schemes.
Gaining chartered status with ICSA is one of the most popular routes to developing a successful career in this area, and requires tenacity and dedication. Later, when you've reached a senior level, with eight years' relevant experience or more, you can apply to become Fellows of ICSA (FCIS).
Support with career development varies between employers. ICSA offers support through a range of resources, workshops, seminars, conferences and special interest groups, which help professionals in specific sectors share working practices and support each other.
It's important that you keep up to date with developments in legislation throughout your career by reading professional journals (such as ICSA's Governance & Compliance magazine and website) and newsletters. Networking and sharing working practices with other company secretaries, both formally and informally, is also recommended.
Geographical mobility can be helpful for career development, particularly in the early stages. With experience, it's possible to progress to board level or move into a directorate head or department head role. Alternatively, you can set up a business advising clients, act as company secretary for small companies, or work as a company formation agent.