Excerpt from 2021 Corporate Governance Conference Panel Discussion
Emerging trends in corporate governance includes a considerable and renewed focus on sustainability, information technology (IT) governance, ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) guidelines, stakeholder management, gender diversity, and the Board’s role in digital transformation.
The emphasis on sustainability and the pronouncement of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) have encouraged companies to develop strategies for their long-term growth with sustainability as a key element. Academic research has established the positive relationship between sustainability and financial performance. The American Governance & Accountability (G&A) Institute reported that approximately 82% of S&P 500 companies issued sustainability reports in 2016. In Nigeria, over 77% of the top thirty most capitalized companies on the Nigerian Exchange provided a detailed report on their sustainability activities in the companies’ 2020 annual report, according to a survey by the Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria. High sustainability companies are known to outperform low sustainability companies. In addition, sustainability financing has become a keen area of research, with investors conducting due diligence on sustainability activities of a business before investing.
Furthermore, quality IT governance can minimize the risk of suboptimal investment in digital assets and can maximize the opportunities for growth and competitiveness. IT governance requires viable system models, and a substantial alignment between the company’s IT and business strategies.
The (International Corporate Governance Network) ICGN principles provide detailed specifications of the responsibilities of boards and shareholders with the goal of minimizing incongruity of interests between the two parties. The ICGN principles were developed in 1995 when the network was initially founded. The principles provide practical description and best practices for key corporate governance elements such as board evaluation, board tenure, audit, board independence, and diversity. In 2021, the network refreshed and updated these principles to provide further clarities on certain corporate governance themes as required, as well as incorporated emerging trends in corporate governance and the current global realities such as the recent global pandemic.
It is in this light that the Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria has indicated the focus of the 2021 Annual Corporate Governance as – emerging trends in corporate governance. The conference explored and brought to awareness the current dynamics and improved corporate governance systems across the globe.
This includes a discussion on the top traditional corporate governance and sustainability-related changes made to the ICGN Principles, such as an emphasis on the importance of independent board leadership and a clear division of responsibilities between the Chair and the CEO to avoid unfettered powers of decision-making.
There was also discussion on the approach Nigerian boards should take with regards to creating/selecting a framework and how can they really identify the aspects of ESG that are most material to their organizations and how to set goals for improving on these. In addition, there was a broad analysis of the patterns observable in the Nigeria market with respect to investments in strictly ESG-compliant businesses, and how this evolves in the future. Furthermore, the possibility for a convergence of sustainability reporting framework was examined. Particularly, how small companies may engage with these frameworks, such as companies who cannot afford high-end sustainability specialists.