CSj talks to the new HKICS President, Ivan Tam, about the way forward for the Institute and the profession in the years ahead.

Thanks for giving us this interview. Could we start by discussing the strategic goals you will be working towards during your term as HKICS president?

‘I would like to keep up the momentum of the work of my predecessors in this role. Our Institute is dedicated to the promotion of our members’ role in the formulation and effective implementation of good governance policies, as well as building up the professionalism of our members working in Hong Kong and the Greater China region – this is the region we cover for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA). Apart from our China development, we shall carry on promoting international ties and exploring ways to extend our reach to Taiwan very soon.

As the Institute has stronger and sustainable financial strength now, this means we can be more ambitious in our objectives – particularly in terms of building up our member and student support services.

The number of our members and students is increasing steadily – right now we have over 9,000 in total – and I think that upward trend will continue in the years ahead because of the rising demand for the value Chartered Secretaries, who are governance professionals, bring. Hong Kong is going through a period of change at the moment, but it is a leading global financial centre with significant competitive advantages. It has a very good infrastructure, particularly in terms of international standards and high corporate governance principles that are being practised in Hong Kong, in these areas our Institute is very strong.

China is a very big market and while it is also experiencing a period of change right now – it has its own domestic reform – but the prospects are good. The renminbi is going to be globalised and national policy, not just the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, promotes outbound investment. So Hong Kong continues to be very well placed as a springboard for companies in China seeking overseas listings. When companies want to list here or go out for outward investment, they need to adopt best practice in corporate governance and this is where our members play a role – companies need the professional support that company secretaries bring.’

You mentioned the need to build up the Institute’s member and student support services – can we discuss that in more detail?

‘To ensure our members are equipped with the technical knowledge and professional skills required to effectively carry out their duties has always been our goal. In terms of professional development, we aim to strengthen our Enhanced Continuing Professional Development (ECPD) programme, particularly in the areas of new regulations as well as practical training. We continue to invite the regulators, our senior members, other professionals such as accountants and lawyers, as well as renowned academics, to conduct seminars on new regulations and corporate governance related matters to update and enhance the knowledge of our members.  You may also be aware that we have recently launched a new “Practical Workshop” series of seminars. We aim to further enhance this area so that new graduates can learn practical tips about company secretarial practice. This will help employers in the training of their junior staff.

We have also been able to line up seminars based on the Corporate Secretaries Toolkit, which was launched in 2014 by the Corporate Secretaries International Association (CSIA). Like our “Practical Workshop” series of seminars, the Toolkit was designed to provide training materials on the core knowledge and skills company secretaries need in their work. Seminars based on the Toolkit will be conducted for our members shortly.

We are also looking to upgrade our services to affiliates, members and students in Mainland China and to expand the reach of our Affiliated Persons (AP) programme. Initially we invited H-Share board secretaries to join our AP programme and now 47% of the H-Share board secretaries are our affiliates. We think it is time to be less restrictive in the criteria we look for when inviting affiliates to join our AP programme. After all, governance and compliance standards are just as important to multinational corporations and private enterprises. We intend to broaden the reach of the programme to include the board/company secretaries and senior executives of these types of companies.

We will still be focused on quality rather than quantity in our China work, though. Our work towards professionalising board secretaries in the Mainland and providing training opportunities to our members and affiliates will continue. In fact, this month we have meetings lined up with the China Association for Public Companies (CAPCO) in Beijing and soon with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange to discuss joint training opportunities and other areas for collaboration. We will assist and contribute in developing more uniform nationwide standards in board secretary practice in China.’

Will the HKICS be putting more resources into these areas?

‘Yes, the Institute is in a stronger position financially and this means we have more resources to put into our work. In 2015, the Institute rolled out the e-version of our monthly journal CSj to facilitate easier access by members and students anywhere they go, as well as help preserve the environment.  We have also facilitated members and students to settle their payments by various credit cards. This year, the Institute has embarked on a major project to upgrade its membership database system. We aim to provide an enhanced and more automated service to our members.  More information will be available to members later this year.  We also plan to hire new people for our secretariat here in Hong Kong. I think we should set up a China desk at the Hong Kong secretariat to work closely with our Beijing Representative Office (BRO). We need to create a special team for that.

I should add that the “upgrade” will affect all areas of our work. For example we are also looking to strengthen our advocacy and research work. In May this year, we will be launching our Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorists (AML/CFT) Charter for corporate services providers (CSPs). CSPs will be able to subscribe publicly to the Charter to demonstrate that they are in compliance with prevailing best practice in AML/CFT compliance. In September we will be launching a new research report on shareholder communications and of course that same month will see our latest biennial corporate governance conference get underway.’

The ICSA UK Division (UKRIAT) has just changed its name to ‘ICSA: The Governance Institute’ – do you think the HKICS is in need of a similar rebranding exercise?

‘Actually, the Institute has been looking at this for some time. Last year, we set ourselves the goal to become a leading governance institute in the region. At the Council strategy planning session last month, we were in agreement that we are now ready to replace the “a” with “the” – in other words, in the long term we should aim to be the leading governance institute in the region. With that in mind we also reached agreement that we should explore our options regarding changing the Institute’s name. We have set up a ICSA/HKICS Name Working Group which is working on this.’

Australia was the first ICSA Division to opt for a name change – adopting the name Governance Institute of Australia (GIA). In interview with CSj, Tim Sheehy, the former GIA Chief Executive and the current Director-General of the ICSA, said that the rationale behind the change was the need to create a more inclusive association of practitioners working in diverse fields who are linked by being governance professionals. Would that also be the goal in Hong Kong?

‘Yes, that is very much the concept. Many members of the ICSA and HKICS do not actually work as company secretaries – they may work in administration, they may work in corporate services, they may work in a number of different fields but corporate governance is the common thread linking them together. But we do need to be careful to ensure that any change does not undermine the interests and benefits that members currently enjoy in the HKICS. I think we should also bear in mind that the term “company secretary” has been adopted for many years in the listing rules and our profession is recognised under this term. Clearly, this is not a simple matter. Apart from anything else, we need to consider not just the name of the Institute but the professional knowledge and expertise that they can offer.’

Do you think that the current rebranding exercise in ICSA will eventually lead to a new professional title to replace the term ‘company secretary’?

‘We had a good discussion about this at our strategy planning meeting. If the career title bears the “governance” term, that will tie in if we are changing the Institute’s name along those lines. In fact, “Chief Governance Officer”, or CGO, is a term that is already in use in the US – it has joined the CEO and CFO designations. We have been told by some of our APs in China that the CGO title would enjoy better recognition. We will not rush to make a decision on the Institute’s name and the professional title.  We shall research and survey our stakeholders first.  In any event, the rebranding is worthwhile only if it brings more value to the Institute and our members.’

Ivan Tam was interviewed by Kieran Colvert, Editor, CSj.


SIDEBAR: Meet your new president

Ivan Tam Kwok Wing has been a member of the HKICS since 1997 and became a Fellow in 1998. He joined the Council in 2010 and was elected to the HKICS presidency on 15 December 2015. He has contributed to the Institute’s work both in Hong Kong and Mainland China, particularly in the areas of education and professional development. He continues to serve on the Mainland China Focus Group; ICSA/HKICS Name Working Group; Professional Development Committee; Company Secretaries Panel; and Technical Consultation Panel.

Ivan initially worked for a law firm and joined his current employer, the Chevalier Group, in 1986. As Executive Director and Deputy Managing Director at Chevalier, he oversees all legal affairs of the Group and is responsible for the operations of cold storage and logistics; fresh produce supply; insurance services; property investment and development; property management; and travel agency businesses.

Ivan also holds a number of public service appointments, including the appointment as the Honorary Vice Consul of the Kingdom of Bahrain to Hong Kong SAR and his membership of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of Changchun and Xuhui District of Shanghai, and the Guangdong Chamber of Foreign Investors. He is the Immediate Past President of the Hong Kong Association of Property Management Companies and a Councilor of the General Insurance Council in The Hong Kong Federation of Insurers. He is also a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing.