Company secretaries work in a strategic and influential way to ensure that a company operates within the law and abides by financial regulations

As a company secretary, you'll need to ensure a company complies with financial and legal requirements, as well as maintaining its high standards of corporate governance. Although not strictly required to provide legal advice, you'll also need to have a thorough understanding of the laws that affect your areas of work.

Also sometimes known as head of governance, you'll hold a strategic position at the heart of governance operations within an organisation. A key part of your role will be to act as a point of communication between the board of directors and company shareholders, and in some cases an organisation's executive management.

Responsibilities

As a company secretary, you'll need to:

  • guide the chairman and the board to ensure they are operating in accordance with rules and regulations
  • support the chairman in ensuring the board functions efficiently and effectively
  • facilitate good communication between the board, committees, senior management and non-executive directors, and shareholders
  • take responsibility for the administration of the company, for example: maintaining statutory books, including registers of members, directors, and secretaries, and shareholders with all their past and present shareholdings, organising board meetings and annual general meetings (AGMs), preparing agendas and taking minutes
  • file necessary documents with Companies House, such as annual tax returns and audit reports
  • inform Companies House of any significant changes to the company’s share capital, administration or registered address
  • monitor changes in relevant legislation and the regulatory environment and take appropriate action
  • liaise with external regulators and advisers, such as lawyers and auditors
  • 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 and take a role in share issues, mergers and takeovers.

Depending on the organisation you work for, you may also need to:

  • take responsibility for the HR and health and safety of employees and manage matters related to insurance and property
  • monitor the administration of the company's pension scheme.

Salary

  • Trainee company secretaries generally start at £20,000 to £35,000.
  • As an assistant company secretary, you can earn around £56,000 to £82,000.
  • As a deputy company secretary, your salary will be in the region of £83,000 to £130,000.
  • The top 25% can earn up to and above £184,000; group company secretaries have the potential to earn in excess of £311,000.

At the top end of the salary scale, company secretaries working for Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) companies can earn significant six-figure salaries, with five-figure bonuses.

Salaries can vary greatly, depending on the sector, location and the size and type of an organisation.

Income data from The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

The work is mainly office based and you'll usually work regular office hours. On occasion 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.
  • Chartered secretaries - those qualified via The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland(CGI) - may work as sole traders, in partnerships or companies, or in professional practices as part of a larger organisation. Chartered accountants and solicitors in sole private practice often take on a company secretary role for small local businesses.
  • There are many opportunities for experienced company secretaries to work in a self-employed or freelance capacity.
  • Jobs are widely available. Opportunities exist in most major towns and cities, although positions with blue-chip companies are mainly found at head offices in London and other large cities.

Qualifications

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
  • law.

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 CGI examinations, which lead to the designation 'chartered secretary', are essential for public limited company secretaries and strongly advisable for those in private limited companies.

It's possible to enter this career by completing an apprenticeship scheme, such as the trainee-internships jobs advertised by the Chartered Governance Institute UK and Ireland.

Skills

You'll 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.

Work experience

You'll need to gain significant professional experience for this role and employers will usually look for a professional qualification.

The most common route is to gain a few years of administrative work experience and then to undertake formal training in company secretarial work.

Relevant experience includes work in the following areas:

  • accounts
  • credit control
  • insurance
  • office management
  • pensions
  • personnel
  • purchasing
  • sales administration.

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.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

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
  • healthcare organisations, including the NHS
  • 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:

Vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies, such as DMJ Recruitment.

Professional development

Most company secretaries gain chartered status with the Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland by completing its Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme.

The programme is divided into two levels, Part One and Part Two.

There are six main routes for entry depending on your existing level of qualifications and experience.

The use of a tuition partner is recommended, though self-study is also an option, and the CGI has a list of registered tuition providers on its website.

The CGI also provides a list of validated postgraduate courses as an alternative to the CGQP exams.

Financial assistance for training may be available through The Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Once you've successfully completed either The Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme or a validated Masters degree, you'll become a Graduate Member of the Institute and can use GradCG after your name.

Graduates then typically progress to Associate membership, with six years' relevant work experience in addition to their qualification. This requirement can be reduced to three years if the Graduate member is a degree holder or member of another professional body.

Once they attain Associate membership, they can use the post-nominal ACG.

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)
  • ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland).

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:

  • charities
  • local government
  • professional services companies
  • public limited companies
  • the public sector
  • share registration agencies.

The CGI website also has details about other training and professional development opportunities.

Career prospects

Gaining chartered status with The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland (CGI) is one of the most popular routes to developing a successful career in this area and requires tenacity and dedication.

When you have gained eight years or more relevant work experience, with at least three being at senior level, you can apply to become a Fellow of CGI, denoted by the letters FCG.

Support with career development varies between employers. CGI 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 CGI's Governance & Compliance magazine, 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.

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