Ask the Expert April 2014
Q: The workload for company secretaries seems to be increasing – how will utilising a board portal simplify and streamline our processes?
A: The role and level of responsibility held by company secretaries in Hong Kong is ever increasing.
Similarly the workload of boards and board committees has also been increasing in recent years. One piece of evidence of this is quite literally the number of pages which directors are required to review in a year, and the responsibility for producing these additional pages falls, of course, to the company secretary department. Moreover, many companies have also seen an increase in the geographic distribution of directors, both in terms of their primary location and travel schedules.
Against this background there are a number of ways in which a board portal can assist company secretaries to simplify and streamline their processes. A board portal provides company secretaries with the option to go ‘paperless’, that is, to remove the burden of having to prepare and distribute many hundreds of pages to directors who frequently travel or who live abroad. A board book creation wizard is used to link each of the topics for discussion to the agenda. The board book is effectively put in order through the use of this wizard, replacing the need to sort pages and insert tabs into the physical board book. Documents prepared by the company secretariat or provided by business units are added to the board book by a simple drag and drop upload. The links already added to the agenda mean that the pages automatically fall into the correct order. The files uploaded to create the board book can be in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or PDF – just as with the creation of a physical board book.
When agenda items are provided late, or last-minute changes are made, one-click updates allow the company secretary to update the board book easily and distribute those changes to directors regardless of the time of day or the location of directors. Given the sensitive nature of materials included in a board book, company secretaries must always be conscious of ensuring that information is only shared with the appropriate persons. An example of this could be where a conflict of interest has arisen and a director must be recused from a particular discussion. As the board portal utilises permission-driven access, effectively allowing or disallowing access down to the individual document level, the company secretary can easily manage conflicts of interest or other situations where document access needs to be limited.
Pervasive branding of the board portal provides users with a sense that the application is tailor-made for their board or board committee, assisting with the transition from paper to paperless. As the company moves forward with a paperless solution, the board portal can be utilised for unlimited storage of archive materials. Both company secretaries and directors can then use the archive to help prepare for future meetings and as a record of past meetings.
Erin Ruck, Regional Director
Tel: (852) 2293 2698