Introducing STEP’s new Private Client Awards charity partner, the World Literacy Foundation

children with booksEach year, STEP supports a charitable organisation through its Private Client Awards. Instead of charging an entry fee to the Awards, we ask entrants to make a donation to our chosen charity; attendees can donate at the event itself, and STEP members can also donate online here. Charity partnerships are for three years, and previous partners include Room to Read, Feed the Minds, the International Senior Lawyers Project, and Operation Smile. We typically raise in excess of GBP200,000 over the three-year partnership as a result of the incredible generosity of entrants, attendees and STEP members. 

This year we have started working with a new charity partner, the World Literacy Foundation (WLF). Here, Louise James and Paula Rico introduce the charity and its work.

Imagine you had no education and could not read or write, blog Louise James and Paula Rico. How difficult would your life be? Most of us take our literacy skills for granted but there are over 750m illiterate people (according to UNESCO) who cannot read a single word, and more than 2 billion who struggle to read and write a sentence.

While this means enormous difficulties with such everyday tasks as reading a newspaper, understanding a traffic sign, or filling in a job application, the full consequences of illiteracy or functional illiteracy go much further, resulting in the marginalisation of many individuals from actively participating in their communities and societies.

The WLF was created in 2003 to reduce children’s illiteracy rates worldwide. The charity works to ensure every child, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to acquire literacy skills to succeed at school and beyond. Last year it reached 315,000 children and young people in five continents, and distributed over 26,600 books.

The charity uses the latest educational technology, including digital programs, solar-powered tablets and smartphone apps, to aid teaching and learning work in Africa and South America. It is also active in marginalised communities in Australia, the UK and the US. The WLF is also a global promoter of literacy, aiming to spread awareness, educate and mobilise people to action.

The WLF’s work would not be possible without the support of volunteers, donors and corporate partners, such as STEP, which has nominated us as its charity partner for the Private Client Awards for the next three years. All funds raised will support our literacy projects across the world, benefiting the lives of thousands of vulnerable children.

WLF founder and ceo Andrew G Kay said, ‘I strongly believe literacy is the pathway to young people reaching their full potential and is a route out of poverty. I am absolutely delighted that STEP has chosen to support WLF through this special partnership. By raising awareness of our work and encouraging fundraising through its networks, STEP is making a big difference for children in poverty.

‘The PCA, that brings together so many top law firms, tax specialists and practitioners, is simply a wonderful platform for WLF to share news about the impact our literacy work has and why donations received are so vital. Thank you.’

If you are able to read this article then count yourself lucky; at some point, you learned to read and write and you have the power to take action and help those who cannot. Find out more about the WLF at www.worldliteracyfoundation.org.

Louise James, UK and Europe Fundraising Manager and Paula Rico, Marketing Coordinator, World Literacy Foundation.

Practitioner perspective: We need to work together to help vulnerable clients

Robin Melley TEPVulnerability is not synonymous with poverty or age, it can happen to anyone, at any time.

While I have been interested in vulnerability for many years, it was the development of my firm’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, with the theme, ‘vulnerability and combating financial abuse,’ that really crystallised my desire to develop my technical knowledge.

The issue was highlighted for me when I started working with NS&I Premium Bond winners, who had each scooped a GPB1 million jackpot. You might not think such a group are people to be concerned about, but I discovered there are sometimes substantial difficulties faced by those who come into ‘sudden wealth’, particularly vulnerable minors and elderly people who have lost mental capacity.

For me, it highlighted the fact that we, as professional advisors, should not try and pigeonhole people as vulnerable, but look at a person’s overall circumstances and make sure we consider potential vulnerabilities for all clients.

Everyone is potentially vulnerable

Importantly for financial planners such as myself, and, I’d think, most STEP members, dealing professionally with vulnerability should be at the core of our work. It is too important an issue to be relegated to a compliance tick-box exercise. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is in the middle of a consultation on vulnerability; and the risk is that advisors fall into the trap of viewing ‘vulnerable clients’ as a defined group of people and focus on complying with a set of regulatory requirements.

In real life, everyone is potentially vulnerable, and the signs of vulnerability are often not immediately obvious. Consequently, the issue of vulnerability has to be embedded in the advice process for all clients.

I believe it’s also vital for chartered financial planners, lawyers, and other professionals to work together. For example, when there is an application to the Court of Protection for gifts to be made, the legal advisor usually needs to demonstrate that the attorneys are acting in the donor’s best interests and fully meeting their obligations under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. A chartered financial planner can provide support by undertaking detailed analysis, incorporating a lifetime cashflow forecast to demonstrate the long-term financial consequences of making gifts at the levels proposed.

Helping our fellow human beings is a basic human instinct and, like many STEP members, I have spent my career helping clients solve some of their problems to satisfy their aspirations for themselves and their families. It has been very gratifying to help them, often supporting them with issues not normally considered part of the financial planner’s responsibilities, and it’s a special feeling to give a safe pair of hands to a client who particularly needs help.

Watch out for abuse

Financial planners who adopt a holistic approach with clients can often spot problems because of the nature of the long-term (and often lifelong) relationship they have with clients, where they are meeting on a regular basis. He or she is well placed to pick up on any cues of possible financial abuse. I have, for instance, become aware of an adult child attempting to persuade an elderly parent to make gifts to them to the detriment of the parent; and have been able to intervene to guide and support the client in what is often an emotional situation.

Why I took the STEP Diploma

I realised I could better help others by deepening my understanding and achieving a higher level of technical competence. The STEP Diploma in Advising Vulnerable Clients offered the most comprehensive professional qualification in this area. I certainly found it a challenge finding the time over the last three years to study, but it has been hugely worthwhile. I have learned so much and it has enabled me to adapt our approach to financial planning to be more closely aligned with the needs of those who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

Examples of the improvements include the provision of detailed information and guidance to the parents of minors, to ensure they are clear on their fiduciary duties and obligations, and improving the way in which we refer to and collaborate with legal advisors.

Put simply, I believe that I am a better financial planner because of what I have learned through the attainment of the STEP Diploma and becoming a Full Member of STEP. The biggest beneficiaries are, of course, our clients.

Robin Melley FPFS TEP is a Chartered Financial Planner, at Matrix Capital in Shropshire.