By Jarrett Banks
Corporate governance is more important than ever. From cybersecurity, digital transformation and human resource management, the shifting landscape has impacted boards everywhere.
CorpGov sat down with Kristen Pross, Chief Product Officer at Nasdaq Governance Solutions, to find out how Nasdaq Governance Solutions can help.
CorpGov: Tell us a little bit about what Nasdaq Governance Solutions does?
The necessity of a high-functioning and empowered board has never been more critical as they help guide businesses through pivotal initiatives and pandemic-born uncertainty. We offer technology and services to help organize, streamline and manage boardroom processes and corporate governance requirements.
Our flagship product is Nasdaq Boardvantage, which is an online board portal designed to help boards, committees and senior leadership teams collaborate effectively and securely.
CorpGov: Some people may be surprised to learn that corporate boards have software that helps them do their job. What technology exists for this specialized cohort of executives?
Boards have a variety of tasks which can be helped by technology. This was the case before the pandemic and has only become truer over the last 18 months. For example: a key use case is board meeting preparation, in which directors are expected to help support company vision, direction and decision making. Without a technology solution in place, most of this work must be done manually and offline, requiring an executive assistant to copy documents, assemble binders, send them to directors via couriers — an overall less efficient and secure process that makes collaboration difficult.
Technology to support this starts with facilitating communication: video calls, texting, emails, easily uploading and collaboratively editing a document. The solution must be robustly secured with privacy and confidentiality as one of the key design principles. This communication can fork among a few different paths: from director to director or board to director, or director to executive staff, making it important for a technology solution to be designed with each of these personas in mind.
There are other administrative tasks surrounding meetings that technology helps to simplify, from scheduling the meeting itself, to voting during the meeting, to being able to easily look up past notes and historical data from past meetings. Board governance software encompasses the ability to accommodate all these tasks and more.
CorpGov: Can you talk about the different types of strategic guidance boards are tasked with? How does technology help them deliver this guidance?
Today, boards are tasked with a wider remit than ever before. Top of mind for nearly every board is cybersecurity, digital transformation and human resource management. On top of that there are region- and industry-specific matters of expertise that vary by board. In every case however, technology allows for seamless preparation, collaboration, streamlined voting, and easy task management and note keeping. It’s no understatement to say that technology is fundamental to helping boards accommodate the increasingly broad scope they are tasked with navigating.
CorpGov: How has the pandemic changed board operations on a month-to-month basis?
Boards have been busy during the pandemic but in large part their month-to-month duties have been consistent. The most significant change, of course, has been the transition from board meetings largely happening in-person, to being conducted over the phone or via video conference — something that boards have had to adjust to from both a technological and cultural perspective. Additionally, the pandemic has brought new challenges and concerns to the forefront of board agendas, such as issues like vaccine mandates and rethinking the company’s real estate footprint.
CorpGov: What concerns do board members have about using technology internally? Have these concerns changed over the pandemic?
Like anyone juggling a variety of responsibilities, one of the chief concerns a director has about adopting new technology is whether it will help and not hinder what they’re already doing. With that in mind, we’ve intentionally built a comprehensive yet easy-to-use platform that enables easier communication and collaboration, while keeping a close eye on customer feedback. Communication amongst board members and with the company C-suite is one of the most important concerns we regularly see come up.
On top of this, security is a top priority for board members and must be integrated into the solution from the ground up. Even before the pandemic, cybersecurity for the board itself was a top priority and has since become a key concern as remote meetings have become the default.
More specifically, boards can vary considerably in terms of their makeup. A director who travels a lot as part of their job will need in-flight access, for example, while someone who lives in a rural area may worry about connectivity where they live. We often see varying technological preferences, needs and skill levels across different generations as well. It’s important for us to balance these considerations so that we’re serving and empowering as many people as possible.
CorpGov: What has NGS seen in terms of adoption and appetite for this software since the start of the pandemic?
The pandemic accelerated an existing trend: increased adoption of digital technology by corporate boards. We’ve seen considerable growth in adoption of our Boardvantage solution — there was a 185 percent increase in logins into our platform from February 2020 to February 2021. Furthermore, we’ve added 9,500 seats in 2021 to date, a considerable growth over last year. Out of that number, 3,600 seats have been with public or pre-IPO companies — growth we were expecting, given the explosion of activity in the public market this year.
What is interesting is to see the number of private companies investing in corporate governance solutions — senior leadership is increasingly recognizing the importance of starting to run operations like a public company, well before going public. We also see a number of more mature private companies that have moved well beyond the startup phase in size and reputation, and now face similar pressures as public companies, taking advantage of board solutions. Having this type of software in place is one key step that companies of any kind can take to immediately bolster their security and compliance posture in support of better corporate governance.
CorpGov: What role can technology play in helping to facilitate even more effective and inclusive discussions between board members?
This is a great question and gets to another part of our holistic approach to corporate governance. Onboarding new board members is one of the services we offer, and it’s an important part of helping the new member feel empowered to speak their mind/share their perspective with more tenured or experienced board members. Speaking specifically about technology, collaboration platforms and group messaging are a powerful way to level the playing field and give everyone an equal chance and voice in group discussions. It also helps to facilitate equal access to information, making it much easier to access historical knowledge which can be invaluable in helping new board members get up to speed and feel confident in their decisions.