Shift your board to a tech mindset

Shift your board to a tech mindset

The use of portals and remote meeting options is growing among board members.

August 2, 2019

Today’s board members don’t want to carry around reams of paper or wait until a few days before the meeting to start reviewing the board packet.

They also aren’t always able to attend a meeting in person, but would be willing to attend remotely.

It’s a mindset that’s becoming more common: One-third of organizations surveyed by Corporate Secretary say they have at least one board member participate in meeting remotely on occasion and 32% report having a completely paperless board packet.

Technology allows board members to carry out their responsibilities, whether they attend meetings in person or remotely. And using a board portal allows the board members to have the most up-to-date information in their hands with ample time to review and prepare before the meeting.

Directors NL subscribe“The board tends to be the inner sanctum of the CEO,” says Paroon Chadha, co-founder/CEO of Passageways, a provider of secure collaboration software for boards. “You discuss the most important and relevant issues, and the CEO assumes some confidentiality. A board portal is a way to share all of the information that’s within the context of the board meeting and the workflows that happen within the confines of the boardroom.”

Boards are responsible for reviewing information, assessing options, voting, and signing documents. A portal is a way to streamline those tasks and interactions between board members.

The notion that paper is inconvenient, bulky, and poses threats to confidentiality were the driving forces behind the first generation of the board portal, Chadha says in an interview with Credit Union Magazine. Gradually, the technology improved, allowing board members to receive information electronically in a secure manner.

The portal also serves as a resource where board members can find documents, such as bylaws, policies, previous board packets, and minutes. It also allows board members to collaborate by making notations within the packet and interacting with other board members or leaders.

Alliant Credit Union, Chicago, has embraced technology that allows board members to attend remotely while also using a board portal in an effort to become a paperless board. It’s part of the $11.2 billion asset credit union’s operating plan to work with board members who reside worldwide.

“We needed a way to have all folks participate effectively, and paper just wasn’t doing the trick” says Lee Schafer, senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief administrative officer at Alliant.

‘We needed a way to have all folks participate effectively, and paper just wasn’t doing the trick.’
Lee Schafer

Benefits of technology

The savings in paper and postage often outweighs the costs for the board portal software or technology required to make the switch to an electronic board environment.

Other benefits technology offers include:

Greater flexibility for meetings. Because the packet is on the portal and meetings are conducted via an online meeting system, board members can be actively involved even when not physically present. “It allows us to engage remote board members without [meeting in person] every month,” Schafer says.

Improved compliance. Some credit unions have policies in place requiring board members to retain copies of board packets for a specific amount of time. A portal erases the storage issue that paper packets present.

“Copies of these documents have a set destruction time, so when that time is reached, we need to destroy them,” Schafer says. “Ensuring that level of compliance was awfully cumbersome because 10 individuals were gathering paper over a series of months and years.”

Improved confidentiality of certain information due to limits on who sees it.

Upgraded information sharing. Not only is it easier to provide members with meeting information, it’s easier for third parties to share information with the board without having to assemble and ship paper packets.

“The board and the credit union need to set the example that there’s nothing to be gained by printing out board packets anymore,” says Steve Mogensen, board chair at $1.2 billion asset Purdue Federal Credit Union.

According to the Corporate Secretary survey, security of board materials is the top reason organizations adopt a board portal. Other reasons include it is a simpler process for board members, a simpler distribution process, a simpler book-building process, current board members recommend it, lower costs, and a reduced risk of e-discovery during legal actions.

Tech advice

Advice for shifting your board to a more technological environment:

  • Start slow. At Alliant, the rollout of an electronic board packet took two years. Incremental change will pay dividends as long as there’s an expectation that the end game is to be in a totally online or virtual environment.
  • Identify a point person to assemble packets for the portal, set up the hardware needed for remote meetings, and troubleshoot problems.
  • Go all in. Making the transition to a paperless or remote board requires the board and senior leadership to be on the same page in terms of strategy.

This article initially appeared in Credit Union Directors Newsletter, which provides strategic insights for policymakers. Subscribe now to the print or PDF versions.