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Interview: Francesca Fossey, Fund Services, Client Company Secretary at TMF Group

Francesca Fossey, winner of The One to Watch at The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland Awards 2020, talks to Governance and Compliance about her entry into the profession and the current governance challenges


How did it feel to win The One to Watch at The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland Awards 2020?

I found out I was nominated for the UK award as a surprise as the Guernsey branch had put me through from the nomination TMF had submitted to them on my behalf. When I found out I was nominated I looked at the webpage of the other candidates and I was honoured to be shortlisted alongside them. As the awards were being done virtually, we were advised that if we had won, an email would be sent in advance notifying us to log onto the portal but mine had not arrived as it had been caught in the spam filter! When the events co-ordinator called to ask why I had not logged onto the portal, I had to check with the lady on the phone if she was sure she had called the right number! I was very shocked to jointly win The One to Watch award with Louise Robinson. I was not expecting to be nominated for the award, let alone win both the local and main branch awards, as cliché as that sounds.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in governance?

When I first started in finance I was not sure what I wanted to do, I tried multiple roles and eventually began a trainee co-sec role at the age of 20, and really enjoyed the faster pace of it and the relationships and knowledge you are able to gain through interactions with the directors. I think the aspect of the job that kept me interested was the overview of how each sector of the finance industry fed into essentially one Board Pack to provide a synopsis of the previous quarter. I feel like my multiple past roles benefitted me due to this, and I would urge people not to have shame in being a ‘serial role changer’ as the experience is always an asset.

How long have you been in your current role and can you talk us through your route into TMF?

I started working for TMF in May 2020, remotely, during the first lockdown. Prior to TMF I got my first job in finance after completing the International Baccalaureate Award at my local sixth form. I got my first job through a regular customer at the local pizzeria I used to work in. Prior to governance I undertook compliance, new business, events and even tax roles, before beginning my career as trainee company secretary at age 20. My colleagues at TMF have been fundamental in allowing me to progress with my career, be it through projects within governance, or just running with projects outside of my role that I am interested in. I would highly recommend TMF as an employer to anyone who is considering them.

What does your job involve on a day-to-day basis?

Daily, I am the first point of call for the clients with administrative and governance queries. I begin my day by looking at my calendar when I wake up, and then when I start my working day I firstly work through my Teams and emails. On top of my dayto- day responsibilities such as reviewing governance schedules, minutes, organising meetings, assisting the board with regulatory matters and submissions. I usually have some small or large project work ongoing relating to the changing governance environment or an area I am interested in, which I pick up when I have time.

What would you consider the main governance challenges currently for the company secretarial industry?

I think the biggest challenge at the moment is being prepared for the unexpected given the uncertain conditions. Since the pandemic I believe the role has become much less prescriptive and it has become common to have to adhere to quickly imposed rules and regulations as a result of the lockdown or market conditions which have arisen from COVID-19, and also to provide comfort to the board on these matters.

What has been your biggest achievement in your role so far?

Personally, my biggest achievement in my current role would be gaining what I hope is the trust of the boards I work for. I think this is vital to being able to learn, question and react in a way best suited to the company and its stakeholders. For example, if you have the trust of your boards, it is much easier to collaborate on governance matters and best practice considerations to ensure that the company is operating in a manner that is appropriate for all stakeholders. I, however, urge company secretaries to challenge any governance matters they do not believe to be correct, and to be dynamic and flexible wherever permissible.

What advice would you give to those beginning their governance career?

I would advise them that if they were considering a career in governance to apply for the roles regardless of experience, with or without an undergraduate degree or higher. The Institute provides multiple qualifications which can equip you with the theory required to discharge your role, while you gain the practical experience 9-5. I would urge trainee’s to attend board meetings, even if you do not understand what is necessarily happening at the time it still gives you not only the experience to interact with the boards, but the perspectives and background information you gain on the client is invaluable. Attendance at meetings and building a working relationship with the directors and stakeholders of the company allows you to be in tune to the views of the directors and allows you to develop a governance strategy which suits the legal requirements, best practices, and preferences of the board.

Looking forward to 2021, what does the next year hold for you? Are there any particular goals you are hoping to reach?

During 2021 I am hoping to sit and pass two further exams in the CSQS exam series. I am hoping to expand my jurisdictional knowledge further than Guernsey and the UK also.

The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland Awards 2020