The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators International President and The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS) Past President, Edith Shih FCIS FCS(PE), in her recent HKICS Double Anniversary Gala Dinner Guest of Honour speech, argued that the gatekeeping role of governance professionals is more important than
ever in these times of global political and financial uncertainty.

This year, 2019, is a double anniversary year celebrating 70 years since the first informal grouping of Chartered Secretaries of The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) in Hong Kong, and 25 years since the incorporation of The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS) as an independent, local professional body. We have indeed come a long way from the informal meetings of Chartered Secretaries back in 1949, but I believe the most interesting and most important chapter in the history of our Institute is unfolding before our eyes right now. I would like to share with you my thoughts, firstly on the latest developments at our Institute as a world-leading governance body, and secondly, on the role we as governance professionals can play in the uncertain political and financial environment in which we find ourselves.

ICSA developments

Governance has always been at the core of our profession. In recent years, however, we have become much better at aligning the identity of our Institute – our brand – to the central concept of excellence in governance. This enables us to gain better and wider recognition locally and internationally.

So where are we currently in this process? The new name of the international Institute – The Chartered Governance Institute – was approved by our global membership in September last year. The Notice of Petition for a Supplemental Charter was published in the London Gazette on 18 December last year and we are awaiting its conclusion. If everything goes according to plan, the Supplemental Charter is expected to have completed all Privy Council processes and be ready for implementation towards the end of this year. This name change is a significant step forward, repositioning our Institute and profession under the governance banner.

Three divisions – Australia, New Zealand and UKRIAT – have already adopted the Chartered Governance Institute name and a similar move is currently being considered in Malaysia and here in Hong Kong. ICSA international does not mandate individual divisions as to the name they adopt and encourages divisions to follow the approach that is best suited for them. We will be happy to facilitate name change delivery where requested.

The second major development at ICSA in 2018 was the launch of our new Chartered Governance Professional (CGP) qualification and designation. Alongside the existing Chartered Secretary (CS) designation, the CGP was introduced in the Hong Kong/China division in September last year. Already some 4,726 of our local members possess both qualifications.

So what lies ahead for us in this anniversary year? A major work in progress for ICSA divisions is the roll-out of new qualifying programmes to replace the existing International Qualifying Scheme. ICSA divisions have the option to implement a new qualifying programme in a manner best suited to their individual circumstances. Some divisions offer the CS and CGP streams separately; others, including Hong Kong/China, UKRIAT, Malaysia, Singapore and Canada, have opted to amalgamate the two streams, leading to a combined CS and CGP dual qualification.

Looking further ahead, adapting to technological changes will be a major task for our profession. Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, are already creating an impact on the work we do, as well as the training we provide to our members and students. I urge all members who haven’t already done so to read the excellent papers published by the ICSA Thought Leadership Committee on this topic. The first paper – Futureproofing: technological innovation, the company secretary and implications for corporate governance – examines the impact of emerging technologies on our profession in the near and distant future. The second paper – 21st Century Annual General Meeting – depicts a modernised way of conducting general meetings deploying a hybrid model.

The Thought Leadership Committee was created in late 2016 to address frontier issues affecting our profession. It has also published papers on shareholder engagement and minute taking practices, and is helping us turn the ICSA international website into a globally respected resource in governance thought leadership.

The role of governance professionals

This year’s HKICS Double Anniversary Gala Dinner comes at a time of global political conflict. Since this is a celebratory occasion, I don’t want to make too much of the many threats the world is facing at the moment. At this time of political and hence financial challenges, however, boards and their governance advisers need to keep an even more watchful eye on current political, social and financial developments in our markets and the world at large to assess the risks their organisations could be facing in the year, and even years, ahead.

Furthermore, at times such as these, it is important for us to bear in mind that the value of the fundamental governance principles which we adhere to in our profession increases. International norms of good governance and the rule of law can advance our shared interests and convictions. In this double anniversary year, against a backdrop of global political and financial uncertainty, I believe we are better placed than we ever have been to realise our full potential as the guardians of governance. We need to be even more vigilant in discharging our gatekeeping responsibilities. We are the solution – and it is our job to hold tight and guard our turf with diligence.

Pulling together

The ICSA has more than 30,000 members worldwide and is represented in more than 80 countries, covering all five continents. One of my goals as International President is to forge a closer working relationship between ICSA international and division colleagues worldwide, based on mutual respect and cooperation. Since I became the International President in July last year, I have visited and attended conferences and events in six of the nine ICSA divisions, including Malaysia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, the UK, and now Hong Kong. The International Council will hold its meeting in New Zealand in October this year and possibly in Singapore next year. I shall also try to visit Australia during my presidency.

ICSA has over 127 years of history and has established a presence in Hong Kong for 70 years. Based on such a solid foundation, we can work together to build an even stronger and more rewarding profession for our current and future members.

I became an HKICS Company Secretaries Panel member in 1998, a Council member in 2007 and took on the Presidency from 2011 to 2014. I joined the ICSA Council as Vice-President in 2014 and became President last year. I find my involvement at HKICS and ICSA a satisfying and enriching experience. Let us all get involved and do our part for the profession. I would like to leave you with the thought – what else can we do for the Institute and the profession? What can I do for the Institute and the profession? Let us know and let us work together.

This article has been adapted from Edith Shih’s Guest of Honour speech at The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries Double Anniversary Gala Dinner, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on 17 January 2019. More information can be found in this month’s Institute News section on p.42.