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

 

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

What’s happening in England and Wales?

Denese MolyneuxMy tenure as Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee began in January and I would like to thank Rita Bhargava TEP for being such a hard act to follow. January also heralded the arrival of STEP’s new Chief Executive, Mark Walley. Mark has been quick to get his feet under the table and has ambitions to move STEP forward while keeping the organisation true to both its mission and vision.

The last England and Wales committee meeting pinpointed the areas that the committee felt warranted the most attention: raising the profile of TEPs in the public eye; education, career development and networking; educating professionals; and influencing government/policymakers. We are working on a plan to support and input into further work in these areas over the next year.

As detailed in Rita Bhargava’s blog in December, much has been done in recent years to raise the profile of TEPs in the public eye.  STEP’s Communications Team continue their sterling work with the ‘Talk to a TEP’ campaign and public-facing website, advisingfamilies.org, which continues to receive over 1,000 TEP searches a month.

The mammoth job of upgrading the STEP website is underway. The update will include a new member area, and a full site redesign, which should lead to big improvements and help you find exactly what you are looking for. The new site should be with us by January 2020.

The probate fees issue rumbles on. Rita Bhargava and STEP’s Policy Team have been leading the charge. Despite their best efforts, the government was, until very recently, pushing ahead with the Order. With recent political events, however, this is all looking a little less certain than before, and seems unlikely to come in much before the end of the year, and there is some speculation that, due to its unpopularity, it might not happen at all…  You can keep up with developments on the STEP Blog as they happen.

The EU Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) is under consultation by the Treasury.  It is to the credit of our technical and policy team that they have pulled together such a comprehensive response to this consultation, and in addition have organised two roundtables with a number of senior industry practitioners to discuss the impact of the Directive in the UK. Watch this space for updates as they happen.

A hearing for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inheritance and Intergenerational Fairness was attended by a delegation from STEP in April. This APPG has held a series of hearings, some of which have helped inform recent recommendations in this area from the Office of Tax Simplification (see blog). We are hoping for more fundamental changes in this area, however, and look forward to recommendations from the APPG later this year.

And our Professional Development Team has a number of plans for the next year, not least the introduction of more flexible diplomas, enabling practitioners to tailor their STEP Diploma to better suit their specialisms.

Since joining the England and Wales committee six years ago, I have been constantly in awe of the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, undertaken by committee members and the Head Office team, a fraction of which I have reported above. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside so many dedicated professionals.

I look forward to updating you with further blog postings during my time as chair.

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

STEP Employer Partnership Forum examines best practice in employee engagement

Speakers and others at our EPP ForumLeading industry practitioners speaking at last week’s STEP Employer Partnership Programme (EPP) Summer Forum discussed how to understand employee engagement, and put new ideas into practice. Particular topics for discussion included flexibility in the workplace, and understanding gender diversity and inclusion. The day was chaired by STEP CEO, Mark Walley and hosted by RSM at its London office. 

Feedback forms and focus groups

Janine Mayor noted employees can easily become disengaged or disillusioned with their roles, and that employers need to find a way to ensure that their people ‘walk into work each day wanting to give their best, and connect with the goals and values of their organisation.’

Key questions should include, ‘What are the relationships like in my organisation? Do people buy into where the company is going? and, Are they engaged with the business and recognised for their achievements?’ Janine recommended employee feedback surveys to understand their needs and wishes, noting that while managers cannot provide everything employees want, through training and good communication, they can effectively respond.

A clear and regular internal communications programme in place will let individuals know they are listened to, supported and recognised. In turn, they will feel part of, and engaged with, an organisation’s journey and goals.

Lorraine Wheeler TEP gave a case study of how her company is putting such steps into practice. She particularly highlighted the use of focus groups.

‘The views of the staff are the key benchmark for what needs to change in any company, and senior staff need to buy in to those views and the changes suggested,’ she said. ‘Focus groups bring inclusivity and also showcase cross-sections of the workforce, and the different needs of different employee demographics.’

Employees must have a ‘safe space’ in which to raise concerns, she added, and management needs to address them. ‘To engage them, they have to be involved, listened to, and taken seriously,’ she said, adding, ‘and then they need to see the results.’

Flexibility and gender diversity

The gender diversity conversation is more important than ever in 2019, as Bonnie Steiner TEP and Rina Goldenberg Lynch stressed in their discussion of workforce inclusion.

They discussed the unconscious bias still existing against women: assumptions that they can’t lead effectively, aren’t ambitious, or will abandon their careers once they have had children.

‘Gender diversity policies are vital to promote change, not just from the ethical perspective, but from the business perspective,’ Bonnie explained.

Aside from the moral implications of a bias against women in the workplace, as well as the possibility of legal complaints against gender non-compliance, the two presented the business case for companies promoting women to boards, from recruitment and retention, to business development and attracting new clients.

Moreover, a balanced male-female board will always show improved decision-making and corporate governance through the different perspectives brought to the table. 

Caroline McCague discussed the importance of increased flexibility: not just for women in the workplace, but for all employees striving to find a work/life balance, noting that too many organisations focus on the physical presence of employees in the office, rather than their goals and productivity.

‘Flexibility should be a strategic tool to supplement engagement, productivity, performance and cultural change,’ she said. ‘Creating a supportive working environment is about helping people to work in different ways as they all work towards the same organisational goals.’

Reviewing the day, Mark Walley said: ‘the Employer Partnership Programme is really important to us at STEP, as it reinforces the relationship between us and the employers of our professional members. We have a shared commitment to the professional standards that we develop, to the training and education undertaken to reach those standards and to the professionalism that is required to become and remain a member of STEP. Together, those elements provide consumers the confidence they seek and is why they come to STEP members for their advice.

‘Events such as the Summer Forum are a fabulous opportunity for EPP partners to come together, share best practice, discuss the issues that they are dealing with and take away actions they can implement right away. The levels of engagement were huge: thank you to all that joined the discussion.’

Helen Swire is News Editor at STEP.

A welcome return to STEP Canada to attend the 21st National Conference

Canada student winnersIt was an absolute pleasure to be back in Toronto, Canada for the 21st National Conference, the STEP Canada Board meeting and AGM. I had visited in February, early in my tenure, given the importance of the region to STEP overall and to learn more about how we operate in different parts of the world.

I was joined on this trip by Simon Morgan TEP, our worldwide Chair and Jim Walkinshaw, COO Finance and HR, from the London office.

We met the Canada Board on the first day, and then attended the AGM and Board meeting. It was great to meet the incoming and outgoing board members and get the opportunity to update the Canada Board on what we are working on in the worldwide office to further the vision and mission of the society.

In the evening we moved on to a reception which included Simon Morgan and STEP Vice Chair Nancy Golding TEP presenting Prof Albert Oosterhoff with Honorary Membership of STEP. Prof Oosterhoff became the second Canadian to receive such an honour and is one of only 11 worldwide.

The next morning saw the conference open and 784 delegates converge on the Metro Toronto Conference Centre. After the formalities, we were into the first session of the day with Richard Hay TEP leading us through a masterclass thought-leader piece on the effects of globalisation on the tax collection of nation states. The question of whether we could be headed toward a central taxing authority that imposes globally-coordinated taxation may not be so far-fetched; how would we have reacted to the current disclosure rules ten or 15 years ago?

Alongside the many important technical sessions the two other stand-out pieces for me (as a non-practitioner) were the lunchtime sessions. On Thursday we listened to S Jay Olshansky from the University of Illinois looking at ageing and longevity; some of the ‘markers’ for that were surprisingly basic, eg the younger you look, the older you tend to live, and what impact that should have on planning for future health and finances. On Friday we had the equally thought-provoking Caron Croland Yanis sharing her experiences on the intersection of family values, sustainable governance and technical compliance in philanthropy.

Before heading off to dinner we were delighted to attend the Student Awards ceremony where the latest winners were recognised (pictured). I always enjoy these type of events and getting to meet the brightest of the new professionals coming through, and I’m confident that we saw some of the future leaders of the profession. Dinner that evening had to be the networking and social highlight of the two days – held at Arcadian Court, an historic and impressive art deco event space.

For me the barometer of a conference’s success is how many people are still actively engaged at the end of the event – and STEP Canada certainly set the bar high by having a varied and well thought-through programme that kept most of the delegates through to the final sessions.

It certainly met our mission statements of promoting high professional standards, educating professionals and connecting advisors. As ever with these events, the eventual success sits deep in the planning, and I saw first-hand during my visit back in February how detailed, focused and accountable that planning was. Based on that, the event was always going to a success!

Altogether it was a very informative and enjoyable few days. I genuinely learned lots, I have seen content and formats that we can use, and/ or adapt for the Global Congress in Dublin next year, and the networking was outstanding.

Huge congratulations go out to the whole STEP Canada conference programme committee led by Corina Weigl TEP (Chair), Brian Cohen TEP and Richard Niedermayer TEP (Co Deputy Chairs) and the fabulous staff team led by Michael Dodick and Janis Armstrong. What a formidable force to have behind the biggest conference event in the STEP calendar.

It’s always interesting to see what other conferences are on in a major venue. As I arrived in Toronto the hotel and centre was full of body builders at the 2019 Toronto Pro Supershow and EXPO, and as we left the cannabis industry had moved in for the 2019 Toronto Cannabis EXPO – it’s a booming market after it was legalised last year…

Mark Walley is CEO of STEP

What can you do to improve employee engagement?

Christopher TaliaWe all know that employee engagement is important, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get right. Next month’s STEP Employer Partnership Programme (EPP) Summer Forum will look at this key area, and help you devise a strategy that works for your organisation.

Employee engagement can mean different things to different people. Some will see it as recognition, others as financial reward. No matter how you view it, employee engagement holds three distinctive characteristics: realising employee potential; clear and shared organisational goals; and promoting employee wellbeing.

Many organisations fall short of achieving one, or all of these factors, leaving employees feeling under-appreciated, and in turn, unwilling to perform at their full potential. So how can employers bridge the ‘employee engagement’ gap while ensuring business success?

The forum, Employee engagement: boosting employee capability and potential for business success, will be hosted by Platinum Employer Partner RSM, and will share valuable insights from the following industry practitioners:

All our speakers have substantial experience in different jurisdictions including Guernsey, Jersey, Switzerland and the UK. Each will share her own experiences, strategies and learning on how they have successfully developed and implemented programmes to support employee engagement.

Key topics will include: what employee engagement means, understanding flexibility in the workplace and understanding gender diversity and inclusion.

If you have ever wanted to know how you can increase both your employees’ potential and their engagement levels, then this is the forum for you. I look forward to seeing you there to learn more about employee engagement.

Christopher Talia, Programme Manager, Employer Partnership Programme, STEP (Christopher will officially join the EPP team from mid-July).

5AMLD consultation: STEP’s view

Emily Deane TEP

The UK Treasury has published a consultation paper on the transposition of the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD), which expands upon the scope of registration for trusts and widens the accessibility provisions to the beneficial ownership records. The 5AMLD Directive provides for public access, but it is up to each Member State to decide whether or not they will restrict this.

Express trusts

5AMLD will require that all UK express trusts register with HMRC, not just those with UK tax consequences (as was the case with 4AMLD). It will also bring into scope non-EU resident trusts that own UK land or property. STEP is concerned that under 5AMLD, a much wider range of trusts will need to be registered. Express trusts may include co-ownership of land, insurance trusts and other dormant trusts, which will significantly enhance the number of trusts that need to be reported. The consultation seeks to clarify the definition of express trusts, which we hope will provide some clarity and narrow the scope.

Access to the register

There will be expanded accessibility provisions. In the UK, the records will be accessible by law enforcement agencies, any UK obliged entity that enters into a business relationship with a trust, and anyone who can show that they have a ‘legitimate interest’ in the data. An exception is that if a trust has a ‘controlling interest’ in a non-EU company, then anyone will be able to access the information by making a written request and no legitimate interest is required. A trust will be deemed to hold a controlling interest in any corporate or other legal entity when the trust has 25 per cent or more of either the voting shares or other means of control over that entity as defined in the Persons with Significant Control (PSC) guidance. It is currently unclear how legitimate interest applications will be dealt with by the government since ‘legitimate interest’ is not defined within 5AMLD.

Legitimate interest

The government will need to decide whether or not requests for trust data meet the definition of legitimate interest. The current train of thought is that those with legitimate interest should be limited to people with active involvement in anti-money laundering or counter-terrorist financing activity, or those who have reason to believe or evidence that a particular trust or person is involved with money laundering or terrorist financing.

We hope that the government will require strong evidence of illegality and/or wrongdoing that clearly implicates the trust concerned before agreeing to consider a legitimate interest application. There are many people who seek to obtain confidential information about individuals and families with wealth for purposes other than the exposure of illegality or wrongdoing. People are often keen to obtain information about the affairs of the wealthy and those in the public domain, for example, and we are concerned that vague assertions of impropriety could be used to obtain confidential information about family trusts.

The consultation does, however, acknowledge that many trusts are used for children and vulnerable adults, and requests for personal information on either of these will be given ‘special consideration’ and will possibly even be withheld, which we fully endorse.

Registration deadlines

For trusts already in existence on 10 March 2020, the government proposes a deadline of 31 March 2021 for them to register. This gives a long lead-in time, given the greater number of trusts that will need to be registered.

For trusts created on or after 1 April 2020, the government proposes that the trust should be registered within 30 days of its creation. The government envisages that this approach will be the most straightforward, as registration can occur as part of the set-up process, when the required details should be readily available to trustees/agents. The proposal for registration within 30 days for new trusts means there is no single deadline each year and it seems sensible for the trust to be registered at the same time it is created.

It is also intended that this 30-day deadline will be used for any amendments that need to be made to the trust register data, for example, to update an address or change a trustee.

Penalties

Due to the fact that 5AMLD extends registration to non-taxpaying trusts, the government considers that the self-assessment penalty regime is not a suitable basis for the 5AMLD penalty framework. The new regime is also being consulted on within the paper.

STEP will be submitting a response to the consultation, which closes on 10 June 2019. The transposition deadline is December 2019, with an implementation deadline of January 2020. There is an extended trust register deadline for the UK of March 2020.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

HMRC’s five traps to avoid with CRS/FATCA reporting

Emily Deane TEPHMRC has identified the most common errors made by financial institutions (FIs) when filing their Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) returns, which include Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) reportable information.

1. The FI misunderstands what constitutes an undocumented account

FIs are wrongly reporting accounts as ‘undocumented’ on the basis that a self-certification requested from an account holder has not been completed.

Accounts should only be reported as undocumented where they meet specific criteria, which include that the account has either a hold-mail instruction or a ‘care-of’ address. The full criteria can be found in CRS, Section III: Due Diligence for Preexisting Individual Accounts, subparagraphs B(5) and C(5). HMRC guidance is available at IEIM402850 and IEIM403040.

Any accounts that are correctly reported as ‘undocumented’ must show Great Britain as the residential country code.

2. The FI misunderstands what information is required to be reported 

Some FIs only complete the mandatory fields in the schema or portal, even though they hold additional information which is legally required to be reported. In addition, some FIs fill in mandatory fields with ‘n/a’ or similar.

CRS and the UK-US FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) state which information is required to be reported. Where a schema or portal field is not mandatory, there can still be a legal requirement to provide this information. For example, where a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or date of birth is held or obtained by the FI, it is required to be reported even though it is not down as a mandatory field within the portal or schema. Where an address is held, the full address must be provided, even though the only mandatory field is for ‘city’ in the schema or portal.

3. The FI reports accounts held by persons who are not reportable persons

FIs are reporting publicly traded corporations, as well as related entities, governmental entities, international organisations, central banks, and financial institutions. In most cases, such accounts are not reportable. HMRC guidance at IEIM402010 outlines which accounts are not reportable.

4. The FI misreports joint accounts and/or partnership account

Some FIs confuse the treatment of joint individual accounts and partnership accounts.

Joint individual accounts must be reported as individual accounts with the entire balance or value of the account, as well as the entire amounts paid or credited, attributed to each holder of the account.

A partnership is defined as an entity for reporting purposes, and accounts held by partnerships should be reported as entity accounts, with the respective due diligence and reporting requirements applied.

5. The FI reports entities as controlling persons 

Some FIs report entities as the controlling persons of entity accounts, resulting in trusts and companies being reported as controlling persons. However, entities cannot be controlling persons; under CRS and FATCA, ‘controlling persons’ means‘natural persons who exercise control over an entity. In the case of a trust, such term means the settlor, the trustees, the protector (if any), the beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries, and any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust, and in the case of a legal arrangement other than a trust, such term means persons in equivalent or similar positions. The term ‘Controlling Persons’ shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force.’

Full HMRC guidance on AEOI reporting can be found at: International Exchange of Information Manual.

Please email Emily.Deane@step.org with any further queries.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

How to win a STEP Private Client Award 2019/20

John Barnett TEPEntries are open for the 2019/20 STEP Private Client Awards 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? John Barnett TEP, Chair of the Presiding Judges, gives us his top tips based on his personal experience over the last three years on the judging panel.

Don’t be scared to enter

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 for 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, from wherever they originate.

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.

Each judge will, at the shortlisting stage, have to review up to 100 submissions, each of up to 1,100 words. They will then do the same again at the finalist stage. Judges have to mark each submission against five criteria and write at least 50 words about each one. That is 220,000 words of reading, 1,000 scores to give out, and at least 10,000 words to write. It is an awful lot of work: first time around, I took a week’s holiday to do the process justice. With this in mind…

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 how many submissions do not answer the question. There are five criteria for each award. Each of the criteria is weighted equally and we score each out of five. So answer the questions and pick up the easy marks. Don’t waste half of your words on criteria where you have already scored 5/5 and then fail to say anything at all in response to others.

Further, make sure that you clearly answer each of the criteria in turn. If instead you give a general narrative answer, 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.

A favourite example from a few years’ ago: ‘We acted for an elderly lady of great age in relation to her complex affairs. She…’ 16 words (1.5 per cent of your total) when ‘An elderly client…’ would have done just as well.

Avoid the marketing spiel!

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

In response to the question ‘what makes you different?’ a particular bugbear of mine is an answer that says: ‘Putting the client at the heart of everything we do is our USP and in our DNA’. If this really makes you different, why have I read something similar in 50 other submissions?

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 2018 to 30 April 2019. General statements about historic successes will waste words and not score any marks.

….and finally, good luck!

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

John Barnett CTA (Fellow) TEP is a Partner at Burges Salmon, Bristol.