CSj interviews four Chartered Secretaries working for Mainland enterprises listed in Hong Kong about the challenges they faced studying for the International Qualifying Scheme and about the benefits the Chartered Secretarial qualification has brought them in their work and professional careers.
Acquiring the CIS post-nominals is no easy matter. First, you need a university degree. Then you need to do your initial training, either via the International Qualifying Scheme (IQS) examinations or equivalent accredited courses, and then you need to keep your knowledge current via mandatory continuing professional development training.
The gain is, of course, very significant. For members in this part of the world, you become a member not only of The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (the Institute), but also of the global Chartered Secretarial body The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA). You gain the only internationally recognised qualification for those wishing to pursue
a career in the company secretarial and corporate governance fields.
In Mainland China, attaining this stamp of quality is increasingly sought after in a sector that is highly competitive, particularly in companies that have a listing in Hong Kong or other overseas jurisdictions. This month, CSj talks to four very diverse In Profile candidates who are linked by their ambition to become ambassadors for the Chartered Secretarial qualification in Mainland China. Why did they choose to study for the IQS? What challenges did they face to become members of the Institute?
Were their employers supportive of their ambitions to upgrade their qualifications? And, perhaps most importantly, how has their new CIS status benefited them in their work and careers?
Xing Jun ACIS ACS, Board Secretary, Haichang Ocean Park Holdings Ltd
After graduating from Loughborough University in the UK with a degree in finance management, Mr Xing has worked for various Hong Kong-listed companies over the course of his career. His current role at Haichang includes compliance issues, disclosure, and corporate governance, while also serving as head of investor and media relations.
As a CFA Charter holder, he pursued membership of the Institute as a top-up endorsement to his professional qualifications and as a consequence of his dedication to the company secretarial career. My qualifications and knowledge in finance and accounting, plus solid working experience with Hong Kong-listed companies, prepared me well for the IQS exam, he says. Thats part of the reason why he achieved a merit in the Corporate Law exam.
The reading materials that prepared me for the IQS exam have been a useful source of information in my career. I was strengthened in my knowledge and eventual practice, and most importantly they enabled me to understand my formal obligations as a company secretary representing a Hong Kong-listed issuer, says Mr Xing.
He adds that the CPD opportunities that his membership has opened up for him have been particularly valuable. The regular seminars, conferences and sharing sessions are very informative, enabling me to keep abreast of the latest regulatory updates, best practices, and learn from others experiences through the many case studies. Membership of the Institute offers constant, invaluable learning and networking opportunities, he adds.
For others in China interested in pursuing membership of the Institute, I suggest they set aside a fair amount of time, say no less than 20 hours a week, to study the materials. The key is do your best to understand the theory behind the laws, regulations and best practices, rather than just reciting and drilling. Revisiting the past papers is also useful from my experience.
Mr Xing believes that the importance of board secretaries on the Mainland will continue to increase, as listed enterprises are placing more importance on compliance and corporate governance. The status of the board secretary as part of the management team is also on the rise, he says. At present, about 40% of companies listed in Hong Kong are from the Mainland. Many of them are dual-listed companies (A+H share). Board and company secretaries with well recognised qualifications in both jurisdictions are in demand, Mr Xing says.
As the Hong Kong and Mainland capital markets continue to integrate, with regulators on both sides strengthening market oversight, it is especially important for board/company secretaries of dual-listed companies to have the most updated knowledge of the regulatory environment at all times. Down the road, Mr Xing believes Mainland companies will be more willing to invest in company secretarial training and sponsor them to acquire international professional qualifications, such as ICSA membership. That being said, it seems to me the recognition of the Institutes membership among Mainland regulators and employers is not yet acknowledged widely enough. I hope the Institute can do more to promote its professional image in China, he adds.
Xiao Junguang ACIS ACS, Securities Representative at COSCO Shipping Holdings Co Ltd
Mr Xiao believes that passing the IQS exam and engaging in the CPD activities organised by the Institute are particularly important ways for board secretaries representing dual-listed companies to enhance their abilities and capacities. He says that his employer was fully supportive of him in his pursuit of Institute membership, including giving him extra time off and full financial sponsorship.
Many topics covered by the syllabus are closely related to our daily work, especially when it comes to corporate law, corporate finance and corporate governance, but not many board secretaries of dual-listed companies I know have attained the qualification. Some of them are talented and well connected but perhaps the exam language and medium of instruction are an issue for them since they use Chinese primarily in their daily business activities, he says.
Despite this language barrier, Mr Xiao does not believe that the Institute needs to introduce a Chinese syllabus to cater to Mainland candidates. He points out that the Chartered Secretarial qualification is internationally recognised and board secretaries hired to work for Hong Kong-listed companies are supposed to possess a good command of English.
Both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges have very stringent regulatory and compliance requirements. Board secretaries have to maintain effective communications with shareholders, investors and financial media, he adds. As such, the board secretary needs to have a rigorous understanding of the companys financial situation, operations, strategy and the competitive landscape. Internal communications and risk control are also something that has to be considered. Continual professional training is therefore important to enhance their abilities and capacities, Mr Xiao believes.
For example, handling shareholder relations and answering media enquiries, especially when there is a significant acquisition underway, require a profound understanding of the situation, the companys stance and the industry as a whole, as well as the disclosure requirements and specifically what constitutes insider information, he points out. Youve got to have a playbook or incident response plan in place. To be prepared, the company secretary has to be continually updated and refreshed on the latest regulatory framework.
Mr Xiao believes that the CPD programmes for Affiliated Persons of the Institute in Mainland China are particularly suited for those who have not achieved the Chartered Secretarial qualification yet. Affiliated Persons can still benefit from the training and networking opportunities provided by the Institute. Sharing by regulators, legal and other professional bodies are very effective in keeping them updated on the latest regulatory changes. These activities also facilitate networking and experience sharing especially among dual-listed companies.
Lu Hongyu ACIS ACS, Board Secretary, Kingsoft Corporation Ltd
Ms Lu has worked for Hong Kong-listed companies for more than 10 years. Prior to achieving her Chartered Secretarial qualification, she received legal training in her postgraduate degree. She has been a member of the Institute since passing the IQS exam. Ms Lu received subject prizes in the Corporate Administration and Corporate Financial Management exams.
Studying for the IQS solidified my knowledge, giving me a better mastery of complex listing rules and compliance requirements. I found the sharing and networking sessions with other members particularly fruitful as well, she says. She also found the study guidelines and reading lists provided by the Institute helpful in
her exam preparations. Aside from professional achievement, the exam also enabled her to integrate the theoretical concepts with the real-world environment.
Ms Lu believes that the Institute has done a good job in its Mainland work. She appreciates the opportunities it provides, working in conjunction with other professional bodies, for board secretaries to join CPD activities, meetings with regulators and company visits. The Institute has done a great deal of liaison work to orchestrate all the event details, sending out invitations, arranging venues and managing timelines. Im still very impressed with a field trip to the Singapore Exchange I attended a few years ago that was an eye-opening journey and I hope the Institute can continue to organise activities like that.
She further suggests that the Institute should arrange events tailored for particular industries, such as the finance and tech sectors. The marketplace where we operate is very fast-paced and the decision-making process has to be short. When there is a takeover or an M&A deal, it usually happens very quickly. It would be very helpful if company secretaries across the tech sector could meet up with and learn from others experiences regularly, she says.
Ms Lu believes there is a good recognition now of the value of having a professionally trained board secretary in China. The
board secretary is part of senior management, serving as the communication bridge between the company and regulators, and
very often as a spokesperson on important issues. The role is highly cross-functional and dynamic. He or she has a direct impact on the public image of the company. So its in the companys interest to have a professionally trained board secretary in this position, she says.
She believes there continues to be a mixed picture, however, when it comes to how far employers are willing to invest in staff training, such as supporting board secretaries who wish to acquire the Chartered Secretarial qualification on the job. This, she says, depends on the corporate culture. Some companies have a faster staff turnover and they may prefer to hire a well-qualified candidate from the talent pool, while some may be more willing to provide sponsorship for existing staff to achieve a recognised qualification.
There are advantages of both having an internally promoted board secretary and hiring one from the talent pool, she points out. An existing board secretary probably has a good understanding of the board and its management style, making internal communications more effective. On the other hand, a well-qualified, experienced newcomer may be more familiar with applicable regulations and compliance requirements, minimising non-compliance risks and potential penalties from regulators.
Rita Zhong Yan ACIS ACS, Board Secretary, Shenzhen Sed Industry Co Ltd
Ms Zhong became a member of the institute in 2014 after passing the IQS exam. She was on maternity leave after delivering her second baby when she was interviewed by CSj.
When I signed up for the exam I had just got pregnant and when I attended the exam in Hong Kong my first kid was just three months old. Being pregnant while going to work is not easy, not to mention the extra time I needed to devote to preparing for the exam, she recalls. So I would say, family support was the most important part in my drive for success.
Besides family support, she remains thankful to her supervisor, the then board secretary of her company, for her encouragement. I was told that if I truly wanted to develop a career as a company secretary, having the membership of the Institute in my CV would be a big asset.
Ms Zhong initially trained as a journalist so her career path has not been a common one. Because I had no formal training in law or accounting, I had to attend extra courses to acquire that knowledge. I also attended the preparatory courses at The Open University of Hong Kong to fully equip myself for the exam and the profession. On the other hand, compared with other board secretaries, I probably have better English reading and writing skills thanks to my major in English at university, she says.
She points out that membership of the Institute provides an assurance and an internationally recognised accreditation to employers of a board secretarys knowledge, training, education and integrity. She also believes that members of the Institute can play a role in promoting the professionalism of board secretarial work on the Mainland. Institute members are representatives of the Institute on the Mainland. Our professionalism, integrity, and the way we present ourselves and our companies, tells others what a Chartered Secretary is. At the same time, we also rely on the Institute to facilitate more networking opportunities with regulators and other professional bodies in order for us to expand the recognition of the profession.
Jimmy Chow, Journalist, and Kieran Colvert, Editor, CSj
海昌海洋控股有限公司董秘－刑军 ACIS ACS
中远海运国际(香港)有限公司證券事务部总经理兼證券事务代表－肖俊光 ACIS ACS
金山软件有限公司董秘－吕虹燏 ACIS ACS
深圳市桑达实业股份有限公司董秘－钟彦 ACIS ACS
Jimmy Chow, Journalist, and Kieran Colvert, Editor, CSj