New Zealand board chairs got paid an average of $256 an hour last year - around 17 times the minimum adult wage.

Research carried out by remuneration specialists Strategic Pay has found the average salary for a board chair was $71,700 in 2015 and they worked around 280 hours.

Directors got an average of $36,200 last year and worked around 191 hours equating to a rate of around $190 per hour.

Strategic Pay chief executive John McGill said while the level of fees was large compared to that of the average wage, directors and chairs had a lot of responsibility.

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"The board of director's primary role is to oversee executive management and ensure the organisation is acting in the best interest of its shareholders.

The reasons why fees are at the level they are include more comprehensive governance systems and greater use of sub-committees and more formal management of the chief executive officer.

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McGill said changes to legislation had also increased board member's responsibility in the last few years.

"The highly public role and major reputational risks associated with board membership has translated into higher remuneration rates and a scarcity of appropriate candidates."

McGill said the level of talented, qualified and available individuals was relatively small in New Zealand.

Board chair pay has increased 14 per cent in the last five years with the highest fees paid to chairs of boards of companies within primary industries.

The lowest fees were paid to people who chair boards for not-for-profit organisations.

The research found overall governance fees had increased by an average of 2.1 per cent per annum over the last three years with 43 per cent of its survey respondents confirming they had adjusted fees in the last year.

The survey was completed in February 2016 and included responses from 2,226 board members from 356 organisations across the country.