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More than a quarter of board members at European financial services companies hold at least four such positions across different organisations, raising concerns about their ability to carry out their roles effectively.
The data, part of broader research including interviews with fund managers released on Monday by EY, also showed that more work is needed on gender representation to meet a forthcoming EU directive.
“When you’re attempting to create more diversity of skills, having the same person appearing multiple times and being brought on to different boards works against that,” said Tara Cemlyn-Jones, chief executive of non-profit 25×25, which aims to improve female representation in senior executive roles.
The number of directors with multiple board positions varied between sectors. Close to half of board members at asset management firms held more than two positions.
But even among banks the number was about 40 per cent, despite a belief among headhunters that board directors at lenders avoid so-called “overboarding” because of governance risks.
The EY data covers all organisations. Usually such datasets only cover public companies, even though roles with private companies, charities and public institutions are often just as demanding and can be overlooked.
Of the 300 fund managers surveyed by EY, more than 80 per cent said they believed that holding more than three board positions could affect directors’ abilities to fulfill their duty.
Chairs at financial services companies “spoke of concerns that the prestige of a board seat could affect willingness to challenge the status quo”, said Omar Ali, EY’s financial services managing partner for Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa, “and that some board members might be financially dependent on their board positions, which impacts their independence”.
Renée Adams, professor of finance at Saïd Business School, said that more research was necessary to understand the issue of overboarding.
“It suggests that financial services firms are not finding enough people that have the competencies that they need,” she said.
The research also found that almost 30 per cent of European financial boards had less than 40 per cent female representation. Under a European Commission directive due to enter force in July 2026, large listed companies across the EU will have to reach that 40 per cent level among non-executive directors, or 33 per cent across all directors.
Failure to meet the requirements could lead to a board being annulled, with several EU countries including Germany, Spain and Italy already having such requirements in place.
In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority has required listed companies to provide information about how they are performing against targets that include having 40 per cent female board representation since last April.
Cemlyn-Jones said that ensuring that more women were in senior roles was even more important than improving their representation on boards.
“Without that, you can have a fabulous board and still have terrible groupthink at executive levels,” she cautioned. “You won’t close the pay gap until you get that representation at that level.”
Additional reporting Anjli Raval