Q&A With Abby Cowart
New Executive Director of the Shareholder Services Association
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
I was born and raised in the Columbus, Georgia area. I attended Columbus State University where I received a Bachelor of Science. To further my education, I attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where I earned my Master of Business Administration with a focus on Leadership. I currently reside in Midland, Georgia with my husband Jimmy, my daughter Samantha and my yorkie pup, Lucy.
YOU HAVE BEEN A MEMBER OF THE SSA FOR SOME TIME. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE BENEFITS YOU TOOK AWAY AS A MEMBER?
Almost 10 years ago while working in a brokerage firm, I was offered the opportunity to go to TSYS and work in the Investor Relations Department. This two-person department required that I be responsible for all retail and registered TSYS shareholders. My knowledge of shareholder services was limited to my interactions as a brokerage employee.
Within my initial introductions and meetings with TSYS’ transfer agent, I was told by my relationship manager that I needed to join the SSA. Through this membership, I learned every aspect of my role as a shareholder services professional. This included best practices, escheatment policies and guidelines, cost basis, RFPs, medallion guarantees and transfers.
WHAT IS UNIQUE OR SPECIAL ABOUT THE SSA?
The SSA is unique and special because it is the only association which is solely dedicated to shareholder services professionals. Another interesting aspect which makes the SSA unique is that regardless of the “sector” or “industry” your primary responsibility is shareholder satisfaction! This includes publically traded companies on NYSE, NASDAQ, REITS, mutual funds and issuers located within the United States and Canada. Often times, you can find a shareholder services presentation included in other associations’ conferences but there is not another association whose sole purpose is to educate and advocate for shareholder services professionals and the issuers they are employed by. However, what I find truly special is the open and friendly environment of the SSA meetings and conferences that make it so easy to communicate, network and learn from, and with, your peers.
WHY SHOULD A SHAREHOLDER PROFESSIONAL JOIN THE SSA?
Simply put, there are 6 basic reasons why a shareholder professional should join the SSA:
- CAREER DEVELOPMENT
- INDUSTRY BEST PRACTICES
- NETWORKING WITH PEERS
- ACCESS TO SERVICE PROVIDERS
- KNOWLEDGE OF THE MOST UP-TO DATE REGULATORY NEWS
WHY NOW HAS THE SSA BOARD CHOSEN TO HAVE AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR?
As Pat Burke noted in his most recent President’s letter, which can be found on the SSA website homepage, the SSA Board assessed the effectiveness of the SSA and it determined it could provide even greater value to its members by establishing for the first time in the SSA’s history a full time executive director. Pending regulatory changes and the desire to increase the effectiveness of our advocacy initiatives for the shareholder services industry further supported the investment in a full time executive director for the association. The SSA Board believes that building on the SSA’s strong and proven foundation that a fulltime executive Director we will enhance the SSA’s overall effectiveness and continuity in delivering valued services to our membership, resulting in a more vibrant and growing association!
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR SHORT-TERM AND LONG-TERM OBJECTIVES AND INITIATIVES AS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR?
My first day of being the full-time Executive Director was November 9th. Immediately on my first day, I began reaching out to seasoned individuals who I have known for many years. I want to grow our membership with not only new individuals within the industry but also serve those who have been in the shareholder services industry for some time. This will allow a great mixture of experience and for the ability to have a mentoring program for new professionals starting out in the Shareholder services industry. As a way of increasing membership and also reaching those already in the industry, I plan to work hard to become to become a resource for transfer agents and their client advisory boards to help them in their respective mission and objectives that align with the SSA’s objectives. Creating a full circle among all industry professionals regardless of an issuer’s transfer agent or service provider is a common goal of the SSA. In order to get started on the right foot, we first revised and updated the SSA’s mission statement which will be debuting soon and will continue to encompass efforts for greater industry education and advocacy while expanding to include more opportunities for career development of shareholder services professionals.
On a long-term scale, I would like to see the SSA offer a shareholder services professional certification program. It is time for the shareholder services professionals who work tirelessly to ensure the regulatory requirements are met for their corporations and also strive to implement initiatives and programs that deliver supreme shareholder satisfaction be recognized and valued.
We believe such certification will serve to increase knowledge and professionalism of shareholder service providers and enhance their career development opportunities. Growing membership will also ways be a staple priority for me and it will continue to be both a short and long term goal. The opportunity to venture into uncharted territories where shareholder services professionals are not being reached through current methods also exists. The SSA strongly believes that each new member brings a unique perspective that serves to expand our association’s collective knowledge and our overall effectiveness.
However, my number one goal and desire above all is that the SSA be known as the premier knowledge resource and educational and advocacy association working tirelessly to enable shareholder services professionals in North America to successfully meet their responsibilities and obligations to their shareholders on behalf of their respective companies.
HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME A MEMBER OR SPONSOR OF THE SSA?
It is very simple to become a member of the SSA. Simply go to the SSA website, www.shareholderservices.org and click on “Join SSA”. We offer two types of membership options for Issuers, individual or corporate memberships. A corporate membership is the most economical option that allows for up to three individuals from the same corporation.
Service providers may also purchase an individual membership by following the same instructions given above. Sponsorships and exhibitor information can be found on the Annual Conference page of the SSA website. And speaking of the Annual Conference, the 2016 Annual Conference will take place July 19-22, 2016, in Chicago, Illinois. This year we celebrate the SSA’s 70th Anniversary. Our theme is “Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future”.