Associate Director, Ava Gallagher has been at Ocorian since finishing her A-Levels and became an ICSA Chartered Secretary and Administrator (company secretary) in 2018. Here she provides those who may be thinking of pursuing the ICSA route with a useful insight into what is required to become a fully qualified company secretary.
The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) delivers internationally recognised qualifications to suit a variety of professional requirements. For those working in the financial services industry, becoming ICSA certified provides a thorough understanding of funds, trusts, investments and governance.
Why did you choose this particular qualification?
During the latter stage of my A-Levels I found the role of the company secretary attractive because of its broad nature. It requires a combination of legal and accounting knowledge and the qualification ensures you build a strong knowledge base in areas such as governance, risk, accountancy, financial reporting, law and strategy. The qualification also gave me the chance to 'learn and earn' as I chose not to go to university, instead joining Ocorian following my A-Levels and getting paid whilst I completed my studies.
How long did it take to become a fully qualified ICSA member?
I first enrolled on the course in 2010 and it comprised of 16 exams - four in the certificate, four in the diploma and eight for the professional qualification. I took a year off exams so all in all, the full qualification took me around eight years. However, you can now complete the course over 14 exams.
What are the key responsibilities of a company secretary and which sectors is the role applicable to?
The company secretary ensures that a company is abiding by the relevant rules and regulations which relate to the entity it's appointed to, considering risk, governance, listing requirements and advising the board of directors in these various areas. This makes it a necessary role in many different industries. Be it working in the private sector for large FTSE100 companies, in the public sector for government bodies or even in the not-for-profit sector, the qualification opens a lot of doors.
Becoming a fully-fledged company secretary is not the only option. The broad range of skills honed throughout the course means ICSA graduates often pursue careers within the financial sector and more specifically, company and fund administration - which is the field I work in.
How does the qualification benefit you in your day-to-day activities?
The knowledge I've acquired from the qualification is something I apply on a daily basis to my current role as an Associate Director at Ocorian, a global leader in corporate and fiduciary services, fund administration and capital markets. The accountancy skills enable me to read and interpret a company's financial statements whilst the governance, law and strategy elements of the qualification allow me to fully appreciate the transactions which are being undertaken in the structures I deal with. This ensures that I can provide the correct guidance to clients and that companies are fully compliant with the requisite legislation, depending on the purpose and requirements of the structure/company.
14 exams are a daunting prospect, how are they scheduled and how much study time is necessary?
Exam sittings were every six months, which allowed me to take time to relax between exams and enjoy the Christmas and summer periods each year. They are flexible too, so if you wanted to take a year off exams for example, you can. As for studying, the professional modules in particular required significant study time. For most modules I attended courses with tuition providers in addition to regular home study. On average, I would try to complete a couple of hours of work per evening and half a day on weekends.
How did you juggle your work/life balance when studying?
For me, ensuring that I was studying regularly enough to learn and understand all that was required, whilst trying to balance work and a social life was the biggest challenge. In the midst of particularly busy periods at work it was difficult to get the balance right. However, knowing that you have an exam right around the corner forces you to make the time for studying!
How did Ocorian support you throughout the qualification?
Ocorian is tremendously supportive of professional study and allows staff to take study leave in exam periods, which is invaluable! One of the great aspects of studying ICSA at Ocorian was that a number of other members of the team were also studying for the qualification, meaning that there were always colleagues available to discuss any questions with.
What would you say to those considering pursuing the full ICSA qualification?
I would definitely recommend ICSA as a qualification route. It provides a fantastic breadth of knowledge and truly deepens understanding of not just the financial sector, but general business practices too. It's not a prerequisite to work in the fund and company administration sector, however, it's been extremely helpful throughout my career with Ocorian and has definitely assisted in my progression.
It's really important to consider whether you're willing to commit time to study both outside of work and on tuition courses. Sometimes, the thought of picking up a study book after a long day of work isnâ€™t appealing, however, the benefit of this qualification is huge and I would recommend it to anyone.
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In June 2020 we gained platinum accreditation from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), endorsing our best-in-class professional development and training programme. With a focus on offering the very best opportunities to support our employees, we uphold the highest standards when it comes to career progression and training.
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