Dear Board Doc: We are Overwhelmed with Board Materials

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Q: For several years, I have become increasingly overwhelmed with the volume of board materials in our book. Some of the multiple reports we receive could be replaced with materials more relevant to our funds currently and appear to be holdovers from long-retired board members who requested them to address long-resolved issues. Further, we always receive at least one late report late that I find myself reading on the plane on the way to the meeting.  I have been told by our counsel that since we have over a hundred funds a lot of the materials we receive cannot be avoided. However, I believe that we can limit or synthesize some of the information we are given. Is there a way to get this paper trail under control?

A: This is a common complaint among boards. Some boards have tackled this problem successfully. For example, some boards have found it helpful to evaluate the content in the board book every few years and cull the non-value adding material that has found its way into the book over time. This review can be a helpful practice to keep board members from becoming overwhelmed and also to familiarize directors with what data is available to them. You may wish to discuss initiating a thorough audit of your board materials. To be most beneficial, it may be helpful to include board counsel, the CCO and a representative from fund management in the undertaking. The audit would be a comprehensive process in which you take a deep dive into what reports you are getting, which reports are necessary, how they should be organized on the portal, and what information can be presented differently, i.e., via charts, dashboards, or summaries. It might also be helpful to have an index of materials and more efficient summaries with linkable bullet points in your book to improve navigation of the materials. Such comprehensive audits can be time consuming – some boards have found that the process has lasted a year, so be patient. As for receiving reports at the last minute, this should not be a routine event. However, sometimes these reports can be the result of management answering follow-up questions from board counsel or board members, as well as situations that may arise close in time to a board meeting. Still, it is up to the board to task itself or a committee within to make sure that directors are receiving a manageable amount of usable information in a timely manner.