This third article in our ‘Know your Institute’ series looks at how the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries, as the membership and qualifying body for Chartered Secretaries in Hong Kong, helps students and members acquire the skills they need for a successful career as a Chartered Secretary.
How does one become a successful company secretary? Firstly, and most obviously, you need to have the technical skills required for the company secretarial function. These include having an excellent knowledge of the legal, regulatory and corporate governance framework within which companies operate, a high level of commercial awareness, and strong analytical and administrative skills.
However, as any experienced company secretary will tell you, the skill set required to take practitioners to the top of the profession includes many other qualities you cannot get from studying the relevant areas of law, corporate governance and administration. Company secretaries need to have excellent interpersonal skills, they need to be highly articulate and have a high level of integrity and personal ethics.
This third article in our ‘Know your Institute’ series will look at how the education and membership teams at the Institute help students and members acquire the full range of skills they need to progress in their career.
Step one: qualification
The HKICS sets and conducts the International Qualifying Scheme (IQS) examination which is the primary route for students to qualify as members of the Chartered Secretarial profession. The IQS meets the criteria set by the International Professional Standards Committee of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), the global Chartered Secretarial body, so it represents an international-standard qualifying exam and this is an important badge of quality for aspiring Chartered Secretaries in Hong Kong. This means that members of the HKICS are also automatically qualified as members of the ICSA.
Ensuring that the IQS syllabus remains on target in today’s fast-changing regulatory and business environment is the job of the Institute’s Education Committee. This team, in particular the IQS Syllabus Rewrite Working Group under the Education Committee, is currently rewriting the syllabus and developing new study packs for its core subjects: Hong Kong corporate law, corporate governance, corporate secretaryship and corporate administration.
Since 2007, the Institute has also been running the IQS examination in Beijing. It has also developed a PRC IQS syllabus which follows the basic structure of the Hong Kong IQS, but is based on the regulatory and governance environment of the PRC. Moreover, the Institute has developed PRC Corporation Practices modules with HKU SPACE. There are Executive Diplomas in PRC Corporate Governance and PRC Corporate Administration. As of July 2014, there were 145 Mainland students registered with the Institute, and the Institute holds regular information sessions in the Mainland to promote this route into the profession.
‘Mainland China will be a potential market for student growth for the HKICS and we expect an increasing number of Mainland students to complete the Chartered Secretarial qualification,’ says Polly Wong, Council Member and Chairperson of the Institute’s Education Committee. She adds that the profession is increasingly highly regarded and recognised for its contribution to corporate governance and sustainability, particularly in Mainland China, and this enhances the career development and employability of the Institute’s members.
The collaborative courses
While taking the IQS examination is the primary route for students to enter the profession, it is not the only route. The IQS is a graduate entry scheme and is particularly suitable for graduates with degrees in law, finance, accounting, management, corporate administration and corporate governance. As an alternative to completing the Institute’s qualifying scheme, registered students have been able, since 1993, to take one of the post-graduate ‘collaborative courses’ set up in association with three local universities. These Collaborative Course Agreement (CCA) programmes cover much the same topics and are set at the same level as the IQS, and graduates from these courses are eligible to apply for full exemption from the IQS qualifying examination. About one third of newly registered HKICS students are currently recruited via this route.
The Institute works closely with the universities to ensure that quality and relevance is maintained, says Candy Wong, Director, Education and Examinations. The three CCA courses are reviewed every three years by appointed Review Panels comprising a representative from the Education Committee and a representative from the Institute’s Assessment Review Panel. Furthermore, the Institute’s representatives are appointed as external examiners of the programmes for quality assurance purposes.
Candy Wong adds that the number of degree and post-graduate programmes in corporate governance in Hong Kong and Mainland China is expanding. ‘Due to the increased complexity of regulations, there is a growing demand for governance professionals and the Institute has been lobbying for an increased number of programmes in corporate governance,’ she says.
This year the Open University of Hong Kong and Hang Seng Management College each launched a bachelor’s degree in this field. Candy Wong has been liaising with Hang Seng Management College and the Open University of Hong Kong on their new ‘BBA in Corporate Governance’ which was launched in September 2014. In addition, the Institute has developed practical graduate-level workshops within its mandatory CPD programme and will be extending its mandatory CPD requirement to all HKICS Graduates in 2015.
Polly Wong believes that these trends are very positive signs for the corporate secretarial profession. ‘With the increase in awareness of the importance of good governance for corporate success, and the development of Hong Kong as a prime financial market locally and globally, the role of the corporate secretarial profession will be increasingly critical in the coming decade for the sustainable development and success of corporations,’ she says.
Step two: personal development
A broader perspective
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, technical knowledge is only part of the skill-set company secretaries need to acquire. Susie Cheung, Council Member and Chairperson of the Institute’s Membership Committee, believes that the Institute has an important role to play in helping practitioners develop the personal qualities they will need in their career.
‘It’s about developing the overall character,’ she says, ‘that’s what I have been trying to achieve. There is no getting away from the need to have a broader perspective and I think our members should be alert to the fact that the company secretary role now encompasses more than just record keeping, filing and compliance with the rules. The other side of being a company secretary is the soft skills. We need to have an awareness of the importance of presentation and general etiquette.’
The Institute’s membership services have been designed with this in mind – they aim to complement the services provided by the Institute’s education and professional development teams. ‘Membership sits at the heart of the Institute’s work,’ says Cherry Chan, Director of the Institute’s Membership Department. ‘I work closely with the Chief Executive and Membership Committee in ensuring membership growth and retention, as well as enhancing members’ engagement and benefits.’
The events organised by the membership team usually combine a social networking opportunity with a professional or personal development theme. This applies to large-scale events such as the annual dinner and the annual convocation (where newly elected Fellows and Associates are welcomed into the profession), as well as the diverse range of networking events the membership team organises. A lot of thought goes into choosing the right topic and the right speaker for these events, and the high calibre of speakers the Institute has been able to line up for its membership events has added greatly to their effectiveness and popularity.
Another key consideration has been to target membership events to the very different experience levels of the Institute’s membership. A recent innovation has been the establishment of the Young Group, providing networking events for younger members of the Institute. Another relatively recent innovation is the ‘Happy Friday for Chartered Secretaries’ gatherings. These enable members to enjoy a relaxed afterwork Friday evening with wine and snacks. Guest speakers are invited to share their experience on a diverse range of topics – past events have taken themes such as Chinese ethics and dining etiquette.
‘You might ask how relevant these topics are to being a company secretary,’ says Susie Cheung, ‘but I believe these are part of the “preparatory work”. Company secretaries need to deal with the board with confidence, but how do they acquire that confidence? It is only through being exposed to different insights and perspectives that they can grow their confidence and become a more complete person.’
This ethos is also evident in the events targeted at the Institute’s senior members and Fellows. These have included guided tours of art galleries and museums, as well as the recent ‘Senior Management/ Board Readiness’ series of workshops. As the name suggests, these workshops are designed to prepare senior members to take up board and senior management positions. The second workshop in the series took place last month with three speakers: Anthony Neoh FCIS FCS, Senior Counsel & Former Chief Advisor of the China Securities Regulatory Commission; Su-mei Thompson, CEO, The Women’s Foundation, and Founder, the 30% Club Hong Kong; and Robert Knight, Partner, Global CEO & Board of Directors Practice, Heidrick & Struggles, Hong Kong.
The value of mentorship
Mentorship has a very long history – for thousands of years apprentices to a profession or guild have been learning from the masters. As you might expect, mentorship plays an important part in both the Institute’s educational and membership services.
On the education side, since 2006 the Institute’s ‘Student Ambassadors Programme’ (SAP) has been bringing together local undergraduates as mentees and Institute’s members as mentors. The SAP also offers a summer internship programme and activities such as seminars, visits to regulators and professional services firms, as well as attending AGMs of listed companies. Over 1,000 students have participated in this programme to date.
Polly Wong believes mentorship is an ideal way for members to get involved in the work of the Institute. ‘Members can directly contribute their professional knowledge and skills to the Institute in different aspects including mentorship, student development, professional development, and even strategically developing the Institute as the professional body in Hong Kong, Mainland China and worldwide,’ she says.
On the membership side, the Institute is currently devising a formal mentorship programme which hopes to exploit the possibilities of mentorship more widely. Susie Cheung believes the programme will be an excellent way for less experienced members to build up their skills, and she hopes the programme can be up and running by the beginning of next year. The Institute is currently identifying possible mentors from among senior Fellows and associates and considering how to structure the programme. Ms Cheung adds that the Institute will need to prepare both mentors and mentees about their obligations and the benefits they can hope to receive from the programme. She points out that benefits flow both ways – apart from anything else, it helps mentors keep in touch with the mindset of the younger generation.
A bright future?
Membership at the HKICS has been growing steadily. Since it was incorporated back in 1994, membership of the Institute has grown from about 3,000 to over 5,800 and student numbers have been maintained at over 3,000 annually. This trend contrasts with the declining membership of some Chartered Secretarial bodies elsewhere. Respondents to this article point out that this growth has a lot to do with the growing demand for compliance and corporate governance professionals in this part of the world, but they add that credit is also due to the way the Institute has been able to pick up on these opportunities.
‘I think we are basically establishing ourselves as the guardians of corporate governance,’ says Susie Cheung. Going forward, she believes the Institute will continue to grow. ‘The future is bright, we are not in a declining industry. On the contrary, there is a greater and more active role for company secretaries to play and how effective we are going to be, and how relevant to society we are going to be, will depend on how much we want to play that role.’
The first two articles in this series can be found in the May and July 2014 editions of CSj. Look out for the next article in the November 2014 edition.
SIDEBAR: Committee in Focus: Education Committee
History: The HKICS Education Committee was set up in January 1994 following the establishment of the Institute as an autonomous local professional body. Prior to that, the Advisory Education Sub-Committee and Student Affairs Sub-Committee were responsible for liaison with local tertiary educational institutions and academics as well as Institute registered students. All examination and related matters were subject to the directions given by the ICSA in the UK.
Remit: The Committee:
• sets and administers standards for quality assurance of the IQS and collaborative courses
• sets, monitors and implements studentship development and regulatory policies and support services to students
• promotes the IQS, the Institute and the Chartered Secretarial profession to university students and interested parties
• establishes and maintains contact with relevant academic and professional institutions to prepare students for membership, and
• attends to disciplinary matters and sets, monitors and implements codes of ethics and conduct for students.
The Education Committee is assisted in its work by a number of subcommittees and panels:
• the Exemption Sub-Committee reviews and endorses exemption applications for students and recommends exemption-related policies to the Education Committee
• the Assessment Review Panel ensures the quality and integrity of the IQS examination; reviews the exam structure and syllabus; sets and reviews examination and assessment policies; and reviews marked examination scripts, and
• the Academic Advisory Panel is a platform for the Institute to communicate with representatives of local universities on the development of the Institute’s education matters.
Membership: Polly Wong (Chairman); Ivan Tam (Vice-Chairman); Alberta Sie (Vice-Chairman); David Fu; Winnie Li; Patrick Sung; Jerry Tong; Francis Yuen; Dr Susana Yuen.
SIDEBAR: Committee in Focus: Membership Committee
History: The HKICS Membership Committee was set up in January 1994 following the establishment of the Institute as an autonomous local professional body. Prior to that, membership admissions were approved by the ICSA Membership Committee in the UK.
Remit: The Committee:
• maintains and improves members’ services and benefits (excluding continuing professional development and publishing)
• sets membership admission policies and maintains standards for acceptance to membership of Graduates and to Fellowship of Associates
• attends to disciplinary matters and the setting, monitoring and implementation of codes of ethics and conduct for members, and
• facilitates the Affiliated Persons’ Programme and supports networking activities with regulators, government officials and professional institutions in Mainland China.
The Membership Committee is assisted in its work by the Fellowship– Promotion and Benefits Group; the Young Group; the Community Service Group; and the Networking Group.
Membership: Susie Cheung (Chairman); Dr Davy Lee (ViceChairman); Paul Stafford (ViceChairman); Dr Eva Chan; Edmond Chiu; Angie Fung; Nereid Lai; Stella Lo; Gloria Ma; Terry Wan; Ye Yu Mang.