How to win a STEP Private Client Award 2020/21

Entries are open for the STEP Private Client Awards 2020/21 from 3 February until 30 April. The Awards are widely acknowledged as being the premier event in the private client industry calendar. Winning an Award is a very clear and recognised hallmark of excellence.

How then, do you go about winning an Award? Mary Duke, TEP, Chair of the Presiding Judges, gives us her top tips based on her personal experience as a nominee, winner, judge and now as Chair of the Judging Panel.

You have to be in it to win it

There can sometimes be a perception that the Awards are only for larger firms or for the usual London suspects. However, the judges have clear instructions to make allowance for smaller entrants and to take cultural differences into account when considering international entries. Last year’s entrants and winners were the most international yet. Entries from all sizes and types of firm are therefore welcome. Strong entries will always attract attention from the judges, regardless of their size or regional origins.

Enter the right category

It is a constant surprise to the judges how many firms enter the wrong category. One submission even began with the bold statement: ‘We are a leading [another category entirely] firm…’. Read the category criteria carefully, and if you think the judges might have difficulty understanding why you are applying for a particular category, help them by explaining your business better.

Put yourself in the mind of the judges

My number-one tip, when writing your submission, is to imagine yourself as one of the judges.

Be aware that most of the judges will not know most of the applicants. If they do, then all the better – judges are encouraged to bring their personal knowledge to the process – but for the most part, judges will be relying heavily on the submission. So even if you think you are the best-known firm in the world, make your submission count.

Understand the judging process

There are three phases to the judging process.  

  1. The Shortlist Phase – First, submissions for the legal categories often receive a high number of entrants resulting in the category being split into large and mid-size firm groups. This is why entrants in these categories are asked to submit the number of fee earners in their team and in the firm. The definition of fee earners can be viewed on the FAQs page of the website.
    Then the categories are assigned to judging groups and each judge will have to review up to 100 submissions, each of up to 1,100 words. Judges have to submit a scorecard against the category’s criteria and write a narrative (minimum 50 words) to support their outcome for each entrant. That is 220,000 words of reading, 1,000 scores to give out, and at least 10,000 words to write. It is an incredible amount of work.
  2. The Panel of Experts – After the shortlist is announced, the entrants for each category are submitted to a panel of experts. These individuals are chosen for their ability to provide independent and knowledgeable insights into the entrants and the field of their work. (But they are not direct competitors in the category.) A list of the panel of experts is available on the awards site. The reports of the Panel of Experts are considered as recommendations only and do not constitute a formal vote.
  3. The finalist stage – The finalists’ entries and the panel of experts’ recommendations are provided to the full panel of judges for this critical decision phase. Prior to meeting for final deliberations, each judge is required to submit their own report on each individual submission indicating which entrant they believe should win the category. The judges then meet to deliberate and make a final decision for each award.

This is a thoughtful and transparent process involving a good deal of debate and discussion. At times, the discussion results in judges shifting their views. There is no consideration of how many tables a firm might purchase at the awards dinner or the size of the contribution an entrant may have made to the officially supported charity. In fact, there is no way for the judges to know these things based on the timing of the decision process. Likewise, there is no consideration given to whether a firm won in the preceding year. Judges with conflicts or whose firm has entered a submission are recused from related categories.

Answer the questions

It is the first rule of exam-technique we should all have learned at school, but every year I am amazed at submissions that fail to answer the question. There are five criteria for each award. Each of the criteria is weighted equally and we score each on a scale of one to five. So answer each of the questions individually. Don’t allocate too much space to one category to the disadvantage of another.

Further, make sure that you clearly answer each of the criteria in turn. Don’t use jargon or abbreviations that are not in common usage. Remember, the panel of judges is made up of a diverse group of practitioners from differing fields of expertise. 

The most important thing to avoid is a long single narrative. Even if it addresses all the criteria, judges aren’t going to thank you for having to read it several times in order to extract and mark each one. Make the judges’ lives easier and they are likely to mark you more highly.

Don’t waste word-count

You have 1,100 words. Make them all count. So many submissions waste words. Précis rigorously. Then do so again.

Clear, succinct language is appreciated. 

Avoid the marketing spiel!

You will be judged by fellow senior industry professionals who can spot puffery and hyperbole from a long way off.

Most of the work in our industry is advisory. The ability to communicate clearly with clients is crucial to this. So, demonstrate your ability to give clear advice, with a clear and well-written submission. If your marketing team is superb, then by all means use them. The judges’ experience, though, is that submissions written by those at the coal-face often read more convincingly.

Pay attention to spelling and grammar and beware unnecessary adverbs and superlatives.

Big numbers (and names) are irrelevant

Many submissions make great play of the financial value of their clients or cases. Others seek reflected glory in acting for big names. Yet both of these have almost no effect on the judges. Tell us what makes your case unusual, complex or novel. Don’t simply name-drop celebrity connections.

Provide evidence; don’t merely assert

Most criteria ask you to ‘demonstrate’ or ‘provide evidence’. Yet many submissions assert things – ‘We are the leading firm providing a superlative level of client-service and exceptional satisfaction’ – without any evidence to back this up.

What will go down well is an evidence-based entry that gives clear examples of what the firm has done over the past year to make it stand out from the crowd.

Entries should be particularly careful about unguarded assertions. ‘We are the only firm that can…’ or ‘We are the largest firm which…’ are particularly dangerous assertions – especially where some of the judges might work for a competitor and dispute whether this is true.

Tell us something unusual

A good answer for each of the criteria might get you shortlisted. But if you want to win, you will need to stand out.

Tell the judges something different, something unusual, something genuinely innovative. Think forward to the awards ceremony and the announcement of the winner. When the celebrity-host says: ‘The judges were particularly impressed by…’, what one facet of your submission will the judges have chosen?

Be consistent

The judges are both curious and cynical in equal measure. They will check what you say in your submission against what you say on your website and other sources of information. Glaring inconsistencies tend to result in entries receiving short shrift.

Remember the Awards are ‘ … of the Year’

Your firm will obviously be very good at what it does, but the Awards are intended to highlight those that have achieved particular success over the past year. Make sure you are rigorous in only referring to evidence from 1 May 2019 to 30 April 2020. General statements about historic successes will waste words and not score any marks.

….and finally, good luck!

The judges look forward to having a bigger job this year, with many well-written submissions to choose from!

Mary Duke, TEP, is an independent advisor to families

You can find out more and enter the Awards at www.steppca.org

UK government raises statutory legacy in England and Wales

Father and daughter at a beachThe UK government laid a statutory instrument on 15 January 2020, which increases the net sum that a surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to receive in England and Wales where a person dies intestate leaving issue (children).

The new legacy has been increased from GBP250,000 to GBP270,000, and will come into force on 6 February. The formal title is the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (Fixed Net Sum) Order 2020.

Under the rules of intestacy, if there are no children, then the spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole estate. However, if there are children, then the spouse or civil partner will be entitled to all of the deceased’s personal property, the first GBP270,000 of the estate and 50 per cent of the remainder, leaving 50 per cent to be divided equally between the children.

How was the calculation made?

The government reviews the amount of the statutory legacy every five years and increases it in line with the Consumer Price Index.

When calculating the increase, the Lord Chancellor followed the standard methodology in Schedule 1A to the 1925 Act (following the amendments brought in by the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014). This involved calculating and then applying the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the ‘base month’ (October 2014) to the ‘current month’ – the most recent CPI figure available at the time of fixing the sum (November 2019, published by the Office for National Statistics on 18 December 2019). This equated to an increase of 8.1 per cent of the GBP250,000 sum, with the figure then rounded to the nearest thousand (as required by the Act), which resulted in the increase of GBP20,000.

STEP welcomes the increase to the fixed legacy, although we would caution that it is prudent not to rely on the rules of intestacy, and to make and review a will regularly.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

A look back at 2019 in STEP England and Wales

Denese MolyneuxI’ve learned much in my first year as Chair of STEP England and Wales. The most impressive thing I’ve seen remains something that I already knew existed; the passion and dedication of our members.

The E&W Committee are looking at how we can increase support at a local level. Getting new members involved remains the lifeblood of the Society. Those attending STEP’s global Branch Chairs’ Assembly recently will have heard the inspirational Tiger de Souza, Director of Volunteering at The National Trust, giving us an insight into increasing volunteer participation. I’m sure many will be implementing the lessons we learned from him.

2019 has been another year of significant policy developments. The planned increase in probate fees didn’t happen. This was due, in large part, to work done by STEP’s policy and communications teams and E&W former Chair Rita Bhargava TEP, whose persuasive arguments convinced the government to think again.

Many of our UK Practice Committee members’ terms are coming to an end shortly. We’re delighted that they have joined the new UK Advisory Group, which will replace the current committee. This will allow E&W to retain access to their collective knowledge, experience and capability for drafting the articles, practice notes and briefings that many of us have referenced over the years.

The UK Technical Committee, has continued to keep pace with changes to tax and legislation proposed by the government. Led by Robin Vos TEP, this committee has responded to a number of consultations on behalf of STEP. We’re lucky to have them overseeing the interests of our members and the public at large.

E&W Committee has been looking at embedding our standards for tax planning into our everyday practice. STEP’s Professional Standards committee are developing a toolkit that will enable you to demonstrate your compliance with these high standards. The first annual report, Professional Conduct in Relation to Tax, has been drafted and will be published imminently.

In September, Professor Stephen Mayson published his interim report regarding the review of legal services regulation in England and Wales. STEP has considered the proposals and Amanda Simmonds TEP and Rita Bhargava will be responding to the consultation on our behalf.

It’s been a good year for STEP, with 2020 shaping up with more exciting things to come. My thanks to Mark Walley and the STEP staff for all their hard work, as well as to the members of the E&W Committee.  Most of all, thanks to all the Society’s members and volunteers throughout E&W, without whom there would be no STEP. I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can throughout 2020.

 

Denese Molyneux TEP, Chair, STEP England and Wales Regional Committee

GDPR and trusts and estates: new guidance coming

STEP is aware that many members are looking for clarification as to how GDPR should be interpreted in the context of trusts and estates.

STEP’s Data Protection Working Group has made submissions to, and had discussions with, the Information Commissioner’s Office on this topic, and intends to publish guidance early next year (most likely in January or February 2020).

The topics covered by the guidance will include:

  • how to apply tests such as ‘number of staff’ and ‘turnover’ in the trusts and estates context;
  • the distinction between data processors and data controllers;
  • the extent to which GDPR applies to trustees and personal representatives acting in a non-professional capacity;
  • the legal basis on which trustees and personal representatives can process special category data;
  • the circumstances in which trustees and personal representatives should issue privacy notices to beneficiaries; and
  • the obligations on trustees and personal representatives when responding to subject access requests.

The Data Protection Working Group intends to add to this guidance in due course, including setting out views on matters such as the treatment of bare trusts and of attorneys and deputies.

Edward Hayes, Chair of STEP Data Protection Working Group

Progress on UK probate delays

Emily Deane TEP

Updated 24 March 2020: HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has launched new standard application forms for professional practitioners.

Three of the grant of representation forms have been redesigned for the professional sector. These are the PA1A (applying for grant of letters of administration), PA1P (applying for a grant of probate) and PA8A (applying for a caveat). These forms need to be completed in place of the Statement of Truth, and can be accessed from Probate forms and guidance.

If you want to apply for a grant of representation or caveat online, please visit HMCTS online services for legal professionals.

HMCTS is encouraging everyone to apply online so that HMCTS can continue to work remotely on the applications.

Updated 10 March 2020: It is now possible to make an online application for a Welsh grant via: A oes gennych chi dystysgrif marwolaeth?

Updated 14 February 2020: HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is now issuing new grants within two weeks of all professional online or paper applications for England and Wales.

HMCTS has requested feedback from professionals who have used the new online system. It has registered approximately 1,000 online applications since the launch and is urging other professionals to sign up.

STEP has relayed the message to HMCTS that some emails and calls are still going unanswered.

Updated 2 December 2019: STEP met HMCTS this week, together with The Law Society, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

HMTCS provided the following update on the Probate Service:

Timeframe

For personal applications HMCTS is now issuing grants in less than four weeks.

For professional applications grants are being issued within two to three weeks.

HMCTS issued 11,390 grants in the first two weeks of November.

HMCTS has identified that 16 per cent of stops are caused by a pending IHT421 and 11 per cent of stops are due to a missing death certificate.

The new online system will help to identify the reasons for other stops in due course.

Online system

HMCTS is promoting the use of its online system and is keen to see increased professional uptake. It is also looking at introducing a new paper form in the new year. Once introduced there will a transitional period to enable firms to implement.

The online service for Welsh applications will be implemented in the new year.

Customer Service

From 2 December 2019 the CTSC customer service centre will be open from 8am-8pm Monday-Friday and from 8am-2pm on Saturday.

If you continue to have issues with a probate application please contact HMCTS by email: probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk

Alternatively, contact STEP’s Policy Team and we will direct you to someone at CTSC who can assist.

STEP will continue to meet with HMCTS regularly next year to discuss future changes to the service and feedback from the industry.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Meeting new friends and old at the STEP LatAm Conference in Sao Paulo

Enrique Martinez Guzman (right) I passed a busy few days in Sao Paulo last week at the STEP LatAm Conference, where I was representing STEP, together with our Chair, Simon Morgan TEP. The regional committee meeting and first networking reception set the tone for meeting many of our professional members, and it was a great pleasure to meet so many new faces.

The conference agenda ranged from the thought leadership of basketball legend Rick Fox on engaging with the new high net worths, and author and journalist Carlos A Montaner on populism in the new world order, through to practical case-study break-out sessions.

Among the highlights was the presentation of our second annual STEP LatAm Thesis Writing Competition to Enrique Martinez Guzman (pictured above, right) for his entry under the topic, ‘Tax consequences of transferring domestic and foreign property to a foreign structure’. Enrique will surely be a name to watch in the years ahead.

I was delighted to join Dayra Berbey de Rojas TEP to present the STEP Founder’s Award to two treasured members of the STEP family, John Lawrence TEP of the Bahamas, and Rosa Restrepo TEP of Panama.

In a show of support for the Bahamas during its recovery from Hurricane Dorian, members of the STEP LatAm Conference Committee presented a donation for relief efforts to Bahamas Minister of Financial Services Elsworth Johnson, raised from speakers who had generously waived their fees.

The final gala dinner was the perfect end to the knowledge exchange and networking, and made me reflect what a fabulous event this is and how well it supports the aims and mission of STEP in the region. It is also one that goes from strength to strength as membership in the region grows.

Our thanks to co-Chairs Ana Claudia Utumi TEP and Norberto Martins TEP, our sponsors, and the whole organising committee. I hope to see many of you again in Argentina next year. Will there be even more than this year’s 430 delegates next time? I would not be surprised.

Mark Walley is CEO of STEP

 

Trust Registration Service: clarification on reporting requirements

HMRCIt has come to STEP’s attention that in HMRC’s GOV.UK guidance on how to register a trust, the guidance about which beneficiaries need to be registered on the Trust Registration Service (TRS) differed in certain important respects from the HMRC guidance that was published on 22 November 2017.

For example, the GOV.UK guidance said: ‘When a member of a class becomes known they must be named, even if they have not benefited yet’, whereas HMRC’s 22 November 2017 guidance said: ‘…But where a beneficiary is un-named, being only part of a class of beneficiaries, a trustee will only need to disclose the identities of the beneficiary when they receive a financial or non-financial benefit…’.

STEP contacted HMRC about this discrepancy and it confirmed that the 22 November 2017 HMRC guidance ‘is still current and correctly reflects the requirement for trustees to disclose details of the identity of all named/known beneficiaries.’ HMRC has since made amendments to the GOV.UK guidance with regard to which beneficiaries must be disclosed.

HMRC also confirmed that although the GOV.UK guidance states that trusts that have registered for FATCA/CRS do not need to be registered on TRS, this is not accurate. The inaccuracy reportedly results from an incorrect transposition of guidance that was in the August 2018 Trusts and Estates Newsletter, which referred to trusts that need to report under FATCA or CRS that don’t have a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR). To date, however, HMRC has not amended the GOV.UK guidance in this regard and STEP will be taking up this issue with HMRC.

Imogen Davies TEP, STEP UK Technical Committee

UK government drops probate fee increase

Daniel NesbittSTEP is delighted and relieved by the news that the proposed increase in probate fees in England and Wales has been dropped.

News reports emerged early on Saturday morning (12 October 2019), to the relief of practitioners and others in the industry.

‘STEP welcomes the news that the government has decided to scrap the proposed increase in probate fees,’ STEP Technical Counsel Emily Deane TEP said. ‘This follows many months of work by STEP and many others to highlight the unfairness of the proposed increase, which amounted to a stealth tax on the bereaved. This at last brings an end to the uncertainty and worry that these proposals have caused to grieving families.’

The controversial proposals to charge higher fees emerged in November 2018. An estate of GBP300,001 – 500,000 would have had to pay GBP750, a 249 per cent increase from the current GBP215 flat fee, while the largest estates of GBP2 million and over, would have been charged as much as GBP6,000; an extraordinary 2,691 per cent rise.

The government’s reasoning behind the increase was that the probate system should fund improvements to the courts service.

The increase mooted in November 2018 was essentially a re-hash of a proposal first put forward in February 2016, which had suggested even higher fees. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had issued a consultation paper increasing fees for estates of over GBP50,000 with a banded fee structure depending on the estate value. Larger estates faced a 13,000 per cent rise to GBP20,000.

STEP strongly opposed the proposed fees on the basis that they would be completely disproportionate to the service provided by the probate court, and would effectively be a new tax on bereaved families (consultation paper pdf).

STEP raised concerns on the grounds of fairness, practicality and legality, in particular that the measures being introduced via the Draft Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 might be ultra vires, i.e. beyond the power of the order. We obtained a legal opinion from leading expert in public law, Richard Drabble QC, who confirmed that ‘the proposed Order would be outside the powers of the enabling Act’ (read blog).

Many other responses echoed STEP’s views, with over 97 per cent of respondents opposing the proposals.

The House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (SI) also questioned the legality of the proposals, given that the new ‘fees’ looked very like taxes.

Despite the opposition, the Probate Fees Order was pushed forward, and was only dropped when the then Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in April 2017. The proposals then re-emerged in November 2018 and while the headline charges were less extortionate than were previously proposed, the same concerns about process and fairness remained.  It remains to be seen whether these proposals will re-emerge, for a third time, at some future point. If probate fee reform does rear its head again, we hope it will be done in a fairer and more transparent way, with greater consideration for bereaved families.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP

STEP attends Global Tax Advisers Platform conference in Turin

Emily Deane TEPSTEP attended the Global Tax Advisers Platform (GTAP)’s inaugural conference ‘Tax & the Future’ in Turin, Italy last week, alongside many leading European tax advisors. The event was hosted by the foundation of Confédération Fiscale Européenne (CFE) Tax Advisers Europe, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary (press release).

The GTAP was set up by the founding organisations, CFE, Asia Oceania Tax Consultants’ Association (AOTCA) and West African Union of Tax Institutes (WAUTI) in 2014 to facilitate networking links and enhanced dialogue between tax advisors throughout the world. Panel experts, including STEP’s Deputy Chair, David Russell QC TEP discussed a variety of prominent global issues including the future of global tax policy, the longevity of the global tax profession and business models and tax sustainability.

During the conference, the founding bodies of the GTAP signed the Torino-Busan Declaration, a binding document in which they define their main purposes: shaping the contemporaneous developments in the field of global taxation and ensuring the fair and efficient operations of national and international tax systems. GTAP sets out four key short-term priorities in the Declaration which include a focus on tax for growth, sustainable tax policies, tax and digitalisation and taxpayers’ rights and certainty in a fast-paced world.

The objective of the Declaration is to regroup the joint efforts of the GTAP members around these priorities, in order to draw attention on the need for recognition of the rights and interests of taxpayers, and the role of tax professionals.

STEP was a signatory to the Declaration and continues to promote the fair and efficient operation of national and international tax systems. A copy of the Declaration will be available on the CFE website in due course.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Online probate applications update – Oct 2019

Rita Bhargava TEPHM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) recently organised a focus group, attended by practitioners from across the industry and representatives of various professional bodies, as part of its ongoing changes to the rules and processes around probate applications in England and Wales.

As Deputy Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee, I attended the meeting on behalf of STEP.

As part of the meeting, representatives of HMCTS confirmed that the new online probate application process was scheduled to go live today, 1 October 2019. At present the system will be unavailable for more complicated applications, for example where the deceased was domiciled outside the UK or where an executor has lost capacity.

Practitioners who do use the online system will benefit from increased transparency around the status of their application; with a dashboard function tracking the progress of an application and showing which stages it has completed.

During the meeting a number of other key points were raised that practitioners may find of interest:

  • All law firms will have to apply to use the new online service, with applications being approved by HMCTS.
  • Practitioners will still be able to make paper applications. There will not be a specific time advantage to using one method over the other, as both paper and online applications will be progressed under the same timeframes.
  • HMCTS representatives have provided the reassurance that as part of the new system the original will is still going be ‘forensically’ checked by two officials.
  • When an application is made for a grant, a sealed copy of the will won’t be provided unless specifically requested. This will incur an additional charge.
  • All paper applications must now be sent via recorded delivery.

STEP will continue to monitor the changes to the Probate Service (as well as the ongoing situation around probate fees), and will provide further updates where appropriate.

Rita Bhargava TEP is deputy chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee