UK: Managing Company Secretarial Activities During Busy Periods

'Resource management' has become one of the buzzword expressions of the commercial world, but for corporate secretarial teams, forward planning plays an essential role in navigating peak periods.

Ongoing regulatory change is occurring at a time when corporate cost cutting is forcing company secretaries to run a tight ship. Add in the growing demand for accurate, real-time global information and many in-house compliance teams face a significant year-round workload.

Nevertheless, there are inevitably certain times on the compliance calendar when that workload increases. During these periods, the risk of error or oversight is magnified – more so if resources aren't carefully managed.

The bottom line is that forward planning of company secretarial activities is critical to managing busy periods.

Effective deployment of resources

Planning ahead offers multiple benefits as limited resources can be more effectively deployed. All compliance responsibilities can be satisfied, and systems can be implemented or activated to ensure nothing is overlooked.

The first step in achieving effective forward planning is recognising peak periods of the calendar. Some dates are more predictable than others. The company reporting season, preparation and lodgement dates of various reports; board meetings; and scheduled shareholder communications are typically known well in advance. Alongside traditional annual governance calendars prepared by the Secretariat, the use of a global corporate database plays a key role in recognising and planning for these busy periods. Maintaining an accurate repository of corporate filing deadlines for all legal entities promotes a proactive approach to planning resource allocation. A significant percentage of these deadlines relate to statutory accounts submissions and the need to commence the approval process often month's in advance of the actual submission deadline.

Some busy periods are less predictable

Along with identifiable dates, other periods of intense activity are less predictable. This may be the result of domestic activities such as takeovers, mergers or acquisitions or global activities such as expansion into new jurisdictions.

Legislative change can create unforeseen periods of peak activity too. Last year in the United Kingdom for instance, we saw the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 come into force, introducing a new requirement for companies to maintain a register of beneficial ownership. Legislative change of this nature, which may increase corporate secretarial complexity, often mean that resources are unavoidably diverted away from a compliance activities, even if only for a short period as the new demands are addressed.

Multinationals face additional challenges

It is when a corporate has international subsidiaries that forward planning for busy periods becomes especially critical. Different jurisdictions are almost certain to have diverse reporting requirements, possibly different financial year ends from head office. In fact, the greater the global reach of a corporation, the more challenging it can be to plan ahead for corporate secretarial activities across the entire geographic footprint.

Overlaying all this, is the fact that corporate secretarial teams don't just manage compliance needs. They are more broadly charged with responsibility for providing the board with expert governance advice, often referred to as a 'corporate's conscience'. Planning for company secretarial requirements during peak periods will streamline workflow to allow more essential 'value add' activities to be undertaken.

Identify the need for professional support

The process of planning ahead for busy periods doesn't just allow for better use of in-house resources. It also highlights those times when in-house staff will be thinly stretched. At these times, using an external services provider for part of the corporate secretarial function can be a sound commercial strategy.

The upsides of engaging experienced, professionals to manage company secretarial matters typically outweigh the professional costs, particularly during peak periods when the potential for error may be at its greatest.

Indeed, given that company secretaries are tasked with marshalling every available resource to support the board, an external services provider with a proven track record can make good business sense. It means time-sensitive tasks are taken care of while the in-house team focuses on critical projects or initiatives.

For multi-national corporations the process of planning for, and managing peak periods, can be further enhanced by using a single global provider of corporate secretarial services rather than multiple disparate professional service firms. It's an option that centralises communication channels and streamlines the process of meeting compliance needs while reducing risk. During peak times, those advantages are extremely compelling.

5 tips to forward plan for peak periods

  1. Identify know busy times both domestically and globally. This information can be used to develop a database tailored to your company.
  2. Allocate available in-house resources to those peak periods, bearing in mind any ongoing projects that may overlap.
  3. Look for times when your in-house team will be seriously overstretched. Could this create the risk of oversight or error?
  4. Consider ways to increase available resources without increasing permanent headcount. Interim staff may be one solution or for a more holistic, expert alternative consider an external services provider.
  5. Examine areas where a service provider can give the greatest return on cost. Where compliance activities occur across multiple jurisdictions, a single global provider can be more cost effective than multiple providers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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