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Artificial Intelligence and Company Secretaries: What Next for Governance Professionals?

London 18th Jun 2024
Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are beginning to revolutionise our lives by automating tasks that would otherwise take hours to complete.

The corporate sector is no exception, with companies using new technology to better their operations.

The future is here

With AI at the forefront of workplace discourse, it is critical to grasp what it means and how it may affect our working environment.

Company Secretaries play an important position within an organisation as trusted advisers to the Board, and AI will most certainly be used to improve the Company Secretary’s functions allowing more time to focus on complex issues and responsibilities.

As we all know, a rising number of businesses are adopting AI to alter existing or establish new business models, increase efficiencies, and improve strategic decision-making to remain competitive.

The fast development and application of AI needs extensive AI governance and risk management processes. Board oversight, responsible practices, risk management and accountability to shareholders and stakeholders, as well as transparency and explainability, are all essential components of responsible AI.

The Company Secretary as trusted adviser to the Board will not only be impacted by the implementation of AI within their own role but will often be able to help guide boards on implementation of suitable governance frameworks in relation to AI.

Service providers, particularly administrators and company secretaries, must be forward thinking and modify existing systems and processes to support their client’s boards.

What activities might company secretaries automate with AI? And how can governance professionals best use technology to streamline board management tasks?

  • Automating Routine Tasks: AI can help automate numerous mundane and repetitive tasks in a company secretary’s routine. This includes generating forms, filing, organising minutes from meetings and maintaining current records. This automation frees up time for strategic planning and decision-making processes that require a human touch.
  • Meeting Scheduling and Organisation: AI virtual assistants can be useful for arranging meetings, sending reminders, and even assisting with the creation of agendas and minutes.
  • Compliance Management: AI can be used to monitor changes in legislation and regulations in real-time and align them with company policies, reducing the risk of regulatory breaches.
  • Document analysis and management: AI powered document and data management solutions can extract key information from documents, allowing company secretaries to rapidly locate vital data. AI systems can also notify secretaries of important deadlines, such filing or renewal dates.
  • Communication: AI may help with the creation of reports and documents for board meetings, analyse documents to identify key points of interest, and provide a summary of content.
  • Data analysis and insight generation: AI can examine large volumes of data and offer insights. These insights could be crucial to business strategy, risk management, and governance.
  • Decision making support: AI supports decision making by predictions or projections based on patterns detected in previous data. This might assist the Company Secretary in advising the board on critical matters.
Risk Management Remains Vital

While AI cannot replace the sophisticated judgement and interpersonal skills required of a Company Secretary, it can surely improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their role. At the same time, AI in this role necessitates a shift in mindset and skills: from repetitive task execution towards strategic advisory, and from technical proficiency to technical management.

A modern Company Secretary should be able to help the board translate some of these complex challenges into easy and relevant conversations that are intended to advance the needs of the company. There is undeniable value to be gained from the use of these developing technologies, but it must be done responsibly.

The first consideration for a Company Secretary is to work with the Board to develop plans that can be implemented to improve AI literacy among board members as part of ongoing board training programmes, so that all members are familiar with the issue.

As a logical consequence, the board must take responsibility for ensuring that suitable governance frameworks exist to enable responsible use of generative AI and emergent technologies at all levels of the company. This will then inform the risk mitigation measures and ethical considerations that the organisation will take to ensure that the company particularly the board, fulfils its duty of care, skill and diligence as they carry out their responsibilities in the best interests of the company.

No substitute for experience

AI provides remarkable opportunities for today’s companies, as well as risks and challenges that company boards and management teams must grasp and solve. Investors want the board of directors to be accountable for a company’s responsible AI development and deployment. As part of its fiduciary duty to preserve and enhance long term value, the board should ensure that they balance the competitive benefits of new technology against potential risks. Questions boards will need to address:

  • How should AI be developed and used responsibly?
  • What is the impact on human capital?
  • How can investors best engage with companies on this subject?

We encourage boards to ensure that they are adequately prepared to do so. However, surveys suggest that many boards over-estimate or lack AI knowledge. Without sufficient expertise or access to expert advice, boards may be ineffective in identifying opportunities and assessing risks related to AI.

Companies should adopt AI governance and due diligence procedures in proportion to the possible impact of their AI activity. Companies should consider establishing their AI strategy in an overall statement or set of values, as well as incorporating responsible AI into existing policies.

Strong risk management processes are required to identify, assess, and mitigate financially significant AI-related risks, as well as potential societal and environmental consequences. All areas where the Company Secretary can help boards with execution.

JTC want to hear if you already use AI in your role has it been helpful or are looking to do so? Do you believe that it enables you to focus on the big-picture, strategic issues? We would love to hear about your experiences; so please get in touch and share your ideas!

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