Jennifer Warren, CEO, Issuer Services, in North America for Computershare, shares regulatory trends affecting day-to-day business, plus tips on how to maximize available expertise.
What major trends impacting corporate counsel are you seeing currently?
Increasing complex, international and national regulation means greater demand for transparency and stronger internal structures inside companies.
Legal and investor relations departments are working together more to engage with shareholders on environmental, social, and corporate governance issues.
Companies, particularly technology organizations, are also asking for specialist help to list directly on U.S. stock exchanges or to move into new jurisdictions.
What is driving these trends?
There is global pressure on companies to provide evidence they are meeting the highest standards when it comes to fraud prevention, anti-money laundering and compliance with tax as well as other key regulations. U.S. company directors are asking for greater access to accurate and reliable corporate data, in real time, to fulfill their duties.
Institutional investors are showing increasing interest in environmental, social, and governance issues as well as gender and diversity themes in the workplace.
Fast-growing technology start-ups want a stock valuation, a well-maintained register, and tradable shares, but don’t necessarily want to go public because of the additional regulatory burden.
What is the impact of these trends on in-house legal teams?
Legal teams are doing everything from managing entity creation to liaising with outside specialists on a direct listing or an AGM.
More and more are looking to technology to streamline their workload, reduce risk, and even administer company-investor relations.
How are companies such as Computershare responding?
We are working holistically with businesses to ensure they receive bespoke services to propel their operations forward.
Typical requests include managing business licenses and governance services, without adding head count.
Companies, including owner-entrepreneur-led firms are approaching us for the kind of sophisticated services associated with big corporations: cap table management, liquidity, and even employee equity plans and reward programs.
Is there something specific happening with the tech start-up? If so, what implication does that have for transfer agents like Computershare?
Tech companies can scale quickly, but even if they go global, they still often act like industry disruptors.
Their workforces tend to be younger, their legal teams are sometimes managing a large volume of rapidly changing and novel issues and they rely on the perceptions of potential investors.
We have helped household tech names to list, including Spotify. Tech companies demand responsiveness as well as high-quality specialist support.
What do you think corporate counsel need to be aware of in 2020?
They understand the effect of technology on their day job, but may not appreciate how tech can free up human resources to focus on the most strategic and/or competitively relevant work.
If you had one piece of advice to an in-house lawyer in 2020, what would that be?
With so many complex, rapidly evolving issues, and infinite demands, it’s tempting to concentrate on work that lands on your desk, however, try to spend your time deploying your valuable expertise on your highest and best utility.
Rigorously prioritize your time. You are a finite resource that should be deployed with real focus and intention. Don’t waste it on the everyday.
Published February 12, 2020.