Case Studies

Big Society Capital drives digital transformation with Diligent Boards

Big Society Capital’s vision is a world where all investments help improve the lives of people and build a fair society. Alongside other investors, Big Society Capital has made over £1.7 billion of new capital available to organisations with a social mission, through investments into fund managers and social banks.

As the world responds to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations such as Big Society Capital will play a vital role in supporting some of the most vulnerable members of society through social impact investing.

Before the onset of the pandemic, Big Society Capital had been looking for a way to implement and drive adoption of more efficient and secure digital alternatives to traditional Board governance processes. Fortunately, they found the answer just in time.

Enabling Digital Transformation For The Board

Implementing new governance processes is not always an easy task. Andrew Aspital is Head of Operations at Big Society Capital. He is responsible for IT and systems and supports directors and administrative teams to undertake their governance duties. As Big Society Capital’s longest-serving employee, Andrew has seen first-hand the challenges
associated with implementing new approaches to governance processes, as he explains: “We began to investigate digital board portals a couple of years ago but opted for an inhouse SharePoint system. However, adoption was low and security was a concern, as directors preferred to continue with paper-based or PDF Board materials.”

However, a push for change towards modern governance was initiated in late 2019 when a Non-Executive Director who is a member of the risk committee challenged Andrew to implement a digital solution that was convenient, easy to use by directors on the move, and secure.

Diligent’s Intuitive Platform And Standout Support Programme Makes The Difference

The primary risk for Big Society Capital was a lack of user adoption, so an accessible solution with exceptional training and support was essential. Diligent Boards’ intuitive user interface, friendly and flexible training programme and 24/7 support service were core advantages that influenced the decision to invest.

“The training and local support offering were what convinced us that Diligent was the right partner to help us get our main board and committees using digital technology to conduct their governance activities,” explains Andrew.

From a technology perspective, implementation of Diligent Boards was straightforward and Diligent’s customer support team provided training sessions for Andrew and the key administrators to familiarise them with the platform.

Once the rollout began, it became clear that there was already a degree of familiarity with Diligent Boards among Big Society Capital’s directors. Almost half of the Non-Executive directors use Diligent Boards in other directorship roles, so their access is configured to be able to easily and securely switch between accounts. This too, has helped encourage adoption by other directors, as Andrew explains: “In any committee meeting, there are usually one or two directors who have experience with Diligent Boards, so this helps the others get up to speed.”

Diligent’s 24/7 telephone support service ensures that Andrew and his team have back-up whenever they need it, and this has proved invaluable. “Sometimes vendor telephone support services can be average at best, but it is clear that Diligent has got this absolutely right. They are so skilled at helping you get to the finishing line when you are trying to get something done.”

Effective Virtual Board Meetings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recognising the importance of careful rollout to ensure user adoption, Andrew had planned a phased strategy, starting with the Risk Committee of which the original executive sponsor was a member. However, shortly into the process, plans were derailed by the escalation of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The immediate pressure on the Board and its committees to conduct fully virtual meetings would have proved problematic under the previous approach where printing board materials was common, but Diligent Boards has enabled Big Society Capital’s directors to rise to the challenge, with weekly virtual board meetings quickly becoming the new norm.

“Diligent has very quickly become our business as usual,” says Andrew. “COVID-19 brought forward the integration into our governance processes more quickly than anticipated, but this is actually a good thing, Directors have simply had to embrace it and their feedback has been very positive.”

The Big Society Capital Board is conducting weekly virtual meetings via Diligent Boards and third-party video conferencing software, to facilitate robust governance and collaboration at this critical time.

Right now the main board, risk committee, and nominations and remunerations committee are using Diligent Boards and it will shortly be rolled out to the investment committee. In total, 21 directors and four administrators are using the tool to ensure consistent, effective governance practices and secure information
sharing.

It has become the primary central platform for Directors to use as they grapple with unique circumstances and focus on supporting the organisation’s investment
portfolio.

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