Company Secretary

The Job and What's Involved

A company secretary is responsible for a company's compliance and liaison with regulatory bodies. They uphold the highest standards of corporate governance, ensuring effective operations, compliance with the law and efficient administration. This leaves the directors of a company free to run the business.

A company secretary usually reports to the Chairman of the Board. They can sometimes be referred to as a chartered secretary. It is a very different role to that of a personal assistant (PA).

A company secretary's work will vary depending on where they work and the size of the organisation. Working for a small, private company, their role may be more hands-on, compared with working for a registered company where they are more likely to specialise.

A company secretary's work usually involves:

  • Advising the Board of Directors on the best way to conduct their business affairs from a governance perspective.
  • Ensuring that the board receives all the relevant information they need for reports and meetings.
  • Planning the annual general meeting (AGM).
  • Sending notices of meetings to company members and auditors.
  • Attending board and committee meetings and taking minutes.
  • Collating papers for the board and filling out forms and other statutory requirements for Companies House and other regulatory bodies.
  • Maintaining company records, for example registers of directors and shareholders.
  • Providing copies of the accounts to every member of the company and other people, including audits as required by law.
  • Ensuring that any one who is entitled by law to see the company records is able to do so.
  • Overseeing any administration systems and ensuring that documents are readily accessible when required.

Other responsibilities may include:

  • Looking after pensions, share schemes and audits.
  • General management, including human resources issues and public relations.
  • Risk management.
  • Providing legal advice on company matters.

The company secretary is expected to keep abreast of legislation that will affect the way that companies operate. In the event of a query, the board will often turn to the company secretary for advice on a wide range of issues.

Company law is under review. Under the new Companies Act 2006, private companies will no longer be required to have a company secretary. This provision will be in force by October 2008. The main legal obligations, however, will remain much the same. The directors will still need to ensure the company is properly administered and for this reason it is anticipated that many private companies will still have a company secretary after October next year.

A company secretary works between 37 and 40 hours a week, usually from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. At certain times of the year, additional hours may be required to meet deadlines or attend evening events. There may be part-time and job share opportunities.

The role is office based, although some traveling may be required to attend meetings, or visit other sites or offices. Smart-casual or business dress is normally expected. A driving licence may be useful.

Starting salaries may be around £21,000 to £27,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employment opportunities exist throughout the UK, in private and public sectors, from large organisations to small enterprises.

By law every one of the approximately 2 million companies registered at Companies House are required to have a company secretary. Employment prospects are good, as each year there are more and more new companies registering.

Vacancies are advertised in national and local newspapers, through specialist recruitment consultancies and in Chartered Secretary, the journal of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA).

Education and Training

There are no formal qualifications required by law to become the company secretary of a private limited company. The majority of employers will look for applicants with HNC's/HND's or degrees in subjects like law, business studies, politics or public administration.

By law, the company secretary of a public limited company must be one of the following:

- A member of ICSA
- A qualified accountant
- A solicitor, barrister or advocate

Applicants for HNC/HND courses usually need at least one A level/two H grades or equivalent qualifications. Entry to a degree is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications. Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for sandwich courses. In Scotland, they last three or four years full time, or four or five years as sandwich courses. Check with individual universities for entry requirements.

To become a chartered company secretary, a candidate must complete the ICSA International Qualifying Scheme, which leads to membership status.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are trainee positions in the company secretarial departments of most large companies.

The ICSA International Qualifying Scheme is an intensive training programme consisting of professional exams. The courses can be studied part time or by distance learning whilst working, or full time at certain colleges and universities.

Training is grouped into four programmes:

The Certificate in Business Practice - which covers the business environment, business communications, accounting for business and business management. There are no formal qualifications required to begin studying, although students need to be aged 17 years or more.

The Diploma in Business Practice - which looks at business law in practice, marketing, business finance, and business strategy and planning. Candidates must possess a degree as a minimum for entry onto this diploma.

The Professional Programme Part I - covers corporate law, financial accounting, management accounting, and strategic and operations management. The programme is open to candidates with the Diploma in Business Practice, a Diploma in Higher Education, HNC/HND or Foundation degree in a related subject, or a degree in any subject.

The Professional Programme Part II - covers corporate governance, corporate administration, corporate secretary ship and corporate financial management. It is open to candidates with The Professional Programme Part I, a related degree or Masters degree from a recognised university.

Once qualified as an ICSA graduate and with six years relevant work experience, students can progress to be an Associate of ICSA.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A company secretary should:

  • Have strong interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Have an excellent command of the English language.
  • Have outstanding organisation skills.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines and manage several projects at any one time.
  • Be able to prioritise their workload.
  • Be able to work with personnel from all levels.
  • Be able to use their initiative and provide solutions.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Be discreet and tactful.
  • Have a diplomatic approach.
  • Keep up to date with changing legislation and best practice.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are excellent prospects for company secretaries. There may be opportunities to change companies and work for new employers, gaining more experience and responsibility. Some company secretaries may decide to move into senior management.

Company secretaries may find employment opportunities with large accountancy firms, which provide a range of company secretary and business services to a variety of clients.

Some company secretaries become self-employed, establishing themselves as consultants and working on behalf of several organisations. Others may choose to pursue careers in different business areas, such as administration, law or finance.

Get Further Information

Companies House, Crown Way, Maindy, Cardiff CF14 3UZ
Tel: 0870 33 33 636

Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA),
16 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AH
Tel: 020 7580 4741

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