2017: A brief editorial review

STEP Journal covers 2017As 2017 draws to a close, and with the final STEP Journal (Dec/Jan) having recently landed on your (or your office’s) doormat, this seems the perfect juncture take a quick look back on our member publications and bulletins this year.

Above are the varied, colourful covers of this year’s ten STEP Journal issues, each of which is an undertaking by itself; for example, readers would be surprised – and perhaps a little concerned – by the amount of discussion regarding the width of the pneumatic tubes on November’s ‘knowledge’ edition. President Trump narrowly missed an appearance on the cover of May’s US/Canada focus, but will surely take comfort that his proposed tax reforms were considered in that issue (‘Trump yet to play his cards‘🔒, by Bruce Zagaris TEP). Two covers particularly stood out for us: August/September’s attention-grabbing pop-art graphic, and March’s sensitive, understated design for that issue’s vulnerable client focus.

According to our web statistics, this year’s most popular STEP Journal feature so far (online) is ‘Will survivorship clauses survive?’🔒, in which John FitzGerald warns of the potential pitfalls of using such clauses when will-drafting in the UK. Our most-read Trust Quarterly Review (TQR) article of 2017 is ‘Signs of convergence‘🔒 by John Riches TEP, on the potential expansion of CRS disclosure.

STEP’s global outlook was reflected in the wide range of jurisdictions covered by this year’s articles, which covered developments in Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Canada, the Cayman Islands, China, Colombia, the UK Crown Dependencies, Dubai, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Mauritius, New Zealand, Panama, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. Members can access all of this year’s issues of the STEP Journal and TQR, and those of previous years, at our back-issue archive.

All that content has been well-received by members, according to the results from this year’s STEP Member Satisfaction Survey: out of the six most valuable member benefits, the STEP Journal – our flagship title – was ranked highest, followed by the News Digests (second), Membership Newsletter Emails (third) and TQR, (fifth). The editorial team is delighted with these results, and will strive to do even better next year.

A huge amount of behind-the-scenes work goes into our editorial output. Following her promotion in December 2016 to Managing Editor of Publications, Blathain Iqbal has diligently managed the production of the STEP Journal and TQR to a consistently excellent standard – from planning and commissioning, to editing and production; a massive undertaking. Helen Swire, who joined in August as Editor, took over our News Digests and has quickly adapted to the subject matter, ably supported by Peter Mitchell, our longstanding news freelancer. We wish the very best to Colette Hagan, who recently departed for a new position; as Communications Executive, she was responsible for the Membership Newsletter Emails this year, and contributed to our other editorial streams. We look forward to welcoming, in January, an Assistant Editor to strengthen the team. Thanks also to Think, our publisher, which handles the production and commercial elements of the STEP Journal and TQR.

Finally, special mention goes to the members of our respective Editorial Boards for the STEP Journal and TQR, who provide invaluable expert feedback on articles before publication. Stan Barg TEP and David Wallace Wilson TEP have just stepped down, and we thank them for their commitment and help over many years.

In 2018, we will continue our efforts to ensure that our editorial content accurately reflects the breadth of jurisdictions and disciplines that STEP represents. The STEP Journal content calendar for 2018 is now available here, and if you have any feedback, suggestions or questions about our editorial output, please do remember to get in touch at editorial@step.org.

We wish our readers and members a very happy festive period.

John Read, Head of Editorial, STEP

What’s happening at STEP in England and Wales

Rita BhargavaWith the new year just round the corner, it seems time to reflect on what’s been happening at STEP in recent months.

STEP’s global Branch Chairs’ Assembly took place in London late last month, and was extremely well-attended. Its main focus was to ensure members feel they have an effective voice in developing STEP’s membership offer, and that it is delivered consistently and effectively, regardless of where people are based. One example of the changes coming is a standardised approach for routes to membership across the world, which will be introduced in February.

The BCA resulted in some invaluable feedback which will ensure that STEP develops for its members in an ever-changing environment and provides a consistent service across the board. It was also a great opportunity to meet and network with Branch Chairs and STEP colleagues from around the world.

Membership satisfaction questionnaire
The results of the 2017 members’ questionnaire were extremely positive, with over 2,000 members responding. Almost all (97 per cent) of members would recommend STEP to a colleague, 91 per cent of members said STEP had benefited their career (a 17 percentage point increase from 2008), and 93 per cent said STEP membership is considered important in the industry. It was particularly heartening to read members’ answers to ‘what STEP meant to them’ with some describing it as a ‘gold standard for our industry and a benchmark of excellence.’

Public awareness campaign
STEP’s public awareness campaign has also been highly successful. Six months on, our advisingfamilies.org public-facing website has had over 60,000 page views, with 6,500 viewing its ‘Find a TEP’ facility, and more than 450 followers on its accompanying social media channels. STEP is working hard to increase content, and attract more influential followers.

As the year draws to a close, may I wish everyone a peaceful restful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Rita Bhargava TEP, Chair, STEP England & Wales Regional Committee

STEP’s Special Interest Groups under the spotlight

SIG Spotlight Sessions 2017The end of November saw STEP Special Interest Groups’ (SIGs’) annual day of conferences, the ‘Spotlight Sessions’, held at the Montcalm Hotel in London and attracting over 300 international delegates.

The day started early with a breakfast-time Philanthropy Advisors SIG session. Outgoing chair Suzanne Reisman TEP welcomed attendees and contributed to a panel discussion, which also included Keyvan Ghavami of Act On Your Future, Jacqueline Lazare TEP of Royds Withy King and Julie Wynne TEP of Froriep. A lively discussion ensued, the takeaway point being that advisors are missing a business opportunity if they do not at least raise the issue of charitable giving with their clients.

The International Client SIG session began with Joseph Field TEP of Withers Bergman LLP delivering the keynote lecture on the changing landscape for international clients, quipping that events move so fast, that if you miss the news for 15 minutes, you can get completely behind. Tony Pitcher TEP of LGL Trustees Limited moderated a discussion on tax regimes, which included contributions from Luxembourg, Cyprus, the US, the UAE, Italy and Switzerland.

Bill Ahern TEP of Ahern Lawyers, David Russell QC TEP of Outer Temple Chambers and Wendy Martin of EY – Channel Islands discussed ‘attacks on intermediaries’ and practical issues in relation to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). Wendy said that implementing CRS was a massive challenge, and depended hugely on how you interpret the law. She asked what might happen to all the data required, and what could go wrong, before pointing out the gaping contradiction with data protection legislation that mandates privacy. David expressed his concern that regulatory requirements are making it increasingly difficult to open a bank account and many entirely legitimate people are being excluded from the banking system, and Bill noted that in a number of countries there were very good reasons for not wanting the government to know about your financial affairs, not least personal security.

The day marked the official launch event of the newest of STEP’s SIGs, the Digital Assets SIG. Leigh Sagar TEP of New Square Chambers gave an introduction to digital assets and the issues they present for estate planning and administration. Together with the panel, he presented the audience with some quite alarming scenarios which left not a few squirming in their seats. If someone has your computer password, they could empty your bank account. If you let someone else use your Facebook account, you’ve committed an offence. If a family member dies, you may not be able to read their emails, or access their accounts. If your relative left online gambling debts that needed to be paid, but you didn’t have the passwords, you would not be able to settle their estate. The panel discussed a number of ways of ensuring passwords stay secure and yet are accessible to those who need them. One of the simplest ideas was to keep a list in a sealed envelope. The session concluded with discussions on electronic signatures and wills and the important, and growing, subject of cryptocurrencies and their taxation.

This year saw the Mental Capacity SIG and the Cross-Border Estates SIG partner on connecting sessions looking at cross-border capacity. Drawing the largest attendance of all the sessions, the panels comprised speakers from 12 jurisdictions providing a round-up of existing and new laws in each, followed by an active panel discussion.

The Business Families SIG session then explored the unique considerations an advisor must consider in an advisory position to a family business wishing to sell, as opposed to non-family entities. The audience heard first-hand accounts from family business owners Ian McKernan of Molecular Products Group and Alex Scott of Sandaire, alongside experts from the advisor community.

The final session was presented by the Contentious Trusts and Estates SIG and focused on the rules against self-dealing, fair dealing, no conflicts and their exceptions, considering the rules in light of recent decisions. Their session welcomed speaker Vicki Ammundsen TEP, who had come all the way from New Zealand.

Joanna Pegum, STEP PR & Media Executive

EU tax haven blacklist confirmed

Daniel NesbittAfter much debate and scrutiny, an EU blacklist of jurisdictions deemed not to be cooperative on tax matters has been agreed. The announcement came following a meeting of the EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council, attended by the finance ministers of each Member State.

The list, officially called the Common EU List of Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions, includes the following 17 territories:

• American Samoa
• Bahrain
• Barbados
• Grenada
• Guam
• Macau
• The Marshall Islands
• Mongolia
• Namibia
• Palau
• Panama
• Samoa
• South Korea
• St. Lucia
• Trinidad and Tobago
• Tunisia
• The United Arab Emirates.

Work on the list began in 2015. Originally 92 countries were screened for compliance with the EU’s transparency criteria, and earlier this year, 53 were warned that unless they changed their tax rules, they risked being included on the blacklist.

The full consequences for jurisdictions on the blacklist will be decided in the coming weeks, although the document outlining the blacklist suggest a number of defensive measures Member States could take against non-cooperative jurisdictions. States such as Luxembourg have been reported to favour not implementing any sanctions whilst others, including France, are thought to be advocating tough measures.

The list will be reviewed annually, with a report on the progress of jurisdictions expected before summer 2018. The EU has also announced that in the future the assessment criteria will be expanded to include the transparency of beneficial ownership information.

In addition to the blacklist, a so-called grey list of a further 47 territories has been drawn up. These jurisdictions have fallen short of the EU’s criteria but have also committed to raising their standards. If they fail to abide by their commitments they will face being placed on the blacklist.

STEP will continue to monitor the situation closely, particular in regards to what happens to those on the grey-list and any further sanctions, and will provide further updates when necessary.

Daniel Nesbitt, Policy Executive, STEP