The Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS), which is also the China Division of The Chartered Governance Institute of the UK, is the only qualifier of the internationally recognised Chartered Secretaries and the newly launched Chartered Governance Professional dual qualification in Hong Kong and the Mainland of China (the Mainland). The Institute recently enhanced its qualification standards under its new Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme (CGQP) to enhance corporate governance training for governance professionals in their pathway to seeking the Chartered Secretary and Chartered Governance Professional qualification.

Corporate governance relates to the system of risk management and controls over business operations and their implementation. It covers diverse areas including company administration, compliance and stakeholder engagement. With new and emerging regulations and international best practices, the governance professional is in demand. In fact, with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for businesses to address operational risks and business recovery, accordingly demands for the quality governance professionals has increased.

Serena Tang, Director of Legal and Technology recruitment at Michael Page sat down with Gillian Meller, FCIS FCS, President, HKICS, and Legal and European Business Director, MTR Corporation Limited; and Joyce Lau, ACIS ACS, HKICS member since 2016, and CFO, Target Insurance Company Limited, to discuss the CGQP; demands on corporate governance professionals; and thoughts on the governance professional.

S : Serena Tang  G : Gillian Meller  J : Joyce Lau

The challenges faced by the governance professional

S : The CGQP is to prepare the governance professional to meet the challenges from corporate governance and capture market demands through formal training. In the context of COVID-19, can you discuss some of the challenges that the governance professional need to manage?

G : With the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been unable to come together to physically meet because of social distancing requirements or curfews. This has affected board, shareholder and other forms of meetings. For example, in Hong Kong, it is mandatory for a company to hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) for regulatory compliance and shareholder engagement. As governance professionals, we are heavily involved in the planning and running of AGMs. To meet the challenge of complying with relevant regulations and allowing shareholders the important opportunity of engaging with the Board of Directors and management team while, at the same time, protecting the health of attendees, HKICS issued a series of guidance notes on how to run AGMs during the COVID-19 outbreak and championed the idea of hybrid meetings. These allow people to meet either in person or virtually through the use of technology. In fact, a paper of The Chartered Governance Institute on this subject was recently tabled at UK’s Parliament. But, aside from special challenges, there are many day-to-day governance challenges presented by COVID-19. The risk profile of companies has been impacted by the outbreak and internal controls need to be adjusted accordingly. In fact, risk management is one of the new topics covered under the CGQP. Companies have also had to think about disclosure – what information should your shareholders receive about how COVID-19 is impacting your company? Openness and transparency are core governance concepts.

J : Touching on the topic of technology, another area is the need to manage the risks and opportunities associated with new technology. For example, cybersecurity and privacy are important topics for the governance professional. They need to help their companies gain trust from stakeholders relating to new technology. For example, within the insurance industry, technology such as blockchain could help check authenticity, while protecting data privacy. The governance professional need to be aware of developments in these and other areas, and to engage relevant internal and external stakeholders, where appropriate, and provide advice and implement practical governance measures from the governance point of view.

A point I would like to mention is that for the well governed company, it cannot simply have a tick-the-box mentality. It needs to incorporate governance as part of its business culture. This will contribute to long term financial viability. Corporate governance must be at the top of the agenda for the board supported by the governance professional as adviser and facilitator.

Solution to the challenges – Enhanced standards through Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme

S : This leads us to when was the CGQP launched? Why did HKICS launch this new programme?

G : The CGQP programme was launched in January 2020. As discussed, corporate governance is changing in line with regulatory requirements and international best practices, and it is an important issue for all organisations from NGOs to MNCs. Our qualifying programme is what governance professionals need to do their jobs properly and to add value beyond just compliance. Governance professionals must consider stakeholder expectations and come to practical decisions that are in the best interest of all relevant stakeholders.

S : What is the main difference between CGQP and the International Qualifying Scheme it replaced?

G : CGQP emphasises the importance of risk management and boardroom dynamics. It has been a part of a company secretary’s role – making decisions and advising the board as to legal and other risks and controls. We wanted to make the implicit part of the role and responsibilities of the governance professional explicit through the new qualifying scheme for the Chartered Governance Professional.

S : Is CGQP only opened to business degree undergraduates?

G : Seeking to pass the CGQP is open to holders of degrees from all disciplines, although it tends to attract people with legal, accounting or business backgrounds. It can be attained at any point in a career, from junior to mid-career professionals. The CGQP showcases the different options that are available to people within the broader corporate governance functions, and it opens opportunities across the board. After passing the CGQP, with appropriate experience and being a fit and proper person, a graduate can become an Associate (who is holder of the Chartered Secretary and Chartered Governance Professional qualification) and eventually move on to be a Fellow of the Institute

S : What kind of jobs can a qualified Chartered Governance Professional apply for?

G : Being a CGQP graduate can open the doors to a variety of jobs and opportunities from being company secretary, to other legal and compliance roles to roles in other business functions. The course covers corporate secretarial practice, corporate governance, corporate law, interpreting financial and accounting information, risk management, strategy management and boardroom dynamics or Hong Kong Taxation can add value to any role that you are in.

It enhances the practical work we do in any organisation, managing risk profile. In Hong Kong and the Mainland, there are not many qualifications on general risk management and compliance, and CGQP fills this gap. As the graduate moves on to become an Associate or a Fellow of the Institute, there will be more opportunities.

Advice for corporate governance professionals

S : What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

G : You have to be very good at the core skills that are required for your role, but you cannot just rely on that. You must have a much broader knowledge of the overall governance landscape and related developments. Do not just be an expert in a particular area, but be open and try to be an all-rounder. You will not know where your governance related roles lead you.

J : Get ready to step up when the right opportunity comes along. You do not know what will happen to your life at any time. Just be prepared for changes and stand brave and seize the moment when it comes up. As long as you are open to different ideas, there are always opportunities.

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