How’s your career health these days?

What's next?

When was the last time you had a career check-up? With client concerns, professional development and a pandemic to contend with, STEP members might quite reasonably believe that career development comes low on the priority list.

Actually, the turbulence of the times is exactly why you should be investing in your career health. Digitisation combined with new work patterns and changing client expectations are just some of the characteristics of the 21st century career landscape. Rapid and continuous change is the new reality and having the agility to cope is the best way to meet not just your own needs, but also those of your stakeholders. You won’t be doing anyone any favours if you’re feeling unfulfilled and your skills are not being fully deployed. Stop paying attention to your career and you may find that obsolescence comes all too quickly.

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure and deciding that you want to take control rather than ploughing on, head down, is a key first step. So, how to get started on a new regime? Here are some thoughts from Rosemary McLean, Valerie Rowles and Mark Anderson, course guides for the Be Bold in Your Career course:

Rosemary: ‘If thinking about your career is something you haven’t done for a while, it’s a good idea to take a temperature reading on where your career is now, where it’s heading and whether that seems like a good direction for you.’

Valerie: ‘We don’t all want the same thing from work and often this changes at different stages in life anyway. What are your personal criteria for job satisfaction? Why not generate a list right now? It’s useful to think about what’s essential for you to thrive rather than just survive.’

Mark: ‘Maybe you feel you don’t have time for this? Actually, just like taking care of your general well-being, it’s about getting into good habits and making them part of normal working life.’

Perhaps you’re broadly content with what you’re doing and just want to continue developing. Or maybe you want to change something … or even transform everything!

Career Innovation are currently offering the ‘Be Bold in Your Career’ course (usually GBP225) free to STEP members. The course will trigger ideas and galvanise you to be more proactive in your career.

  • You’ll feel confident to tell the story of your career in a way that opens up new possibilities for you.
  • You’ll map your network of contacts, tapping into their knowledge about trends on the horizon so that you can start to future-proof.
  • You can work out the kind of stretch that will shake you off a career plateau: building courage in stages is a wonderful liberation from the paralysis of inertia.
  • Or determine how to actively influence how others see you, communicating your career brand and having career conversations that lead to tangible, positive outcomes.

Be Bold in Your Career September 2020 is open for enrolment until 22 Sep. Log in to the STEP site to find out more and to book.

Rosemary McLean is a Director, and Valerie Rowles and Mark Anderson are Consultants at Career Innovation.

STEP’s upcoming Thought Leadership Series: expert perspectives on today’s big issues

Tony Pitcher TEPOne of the most exciting things set to happen in STEP this year was to be our fourth Global Congress, which would have brought together leading experts in Dublin to exchange insight and expertise with delegates from all over the world. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the event has had to be postponed, but we are looking forward to holding it in June 2021 instead.

The agenda for next year’s Global Congress will remain focused on the big issues impacting the industry both now and in the future, with the wide variety of topics being discussed highlighting the breadth of expertise represented across STEP’s membership.

The world does not stop though, and while we look forward to Dublin we have some very pressing matters to discuss in the meantime. As Chair of the Congress panel, I was asked, alongside fellow STEP board members, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to review what those matters might be for our industry and the short and long-term impact.

As a result, STEP has launched the Thought Leadership webinar series, kindly sponsored by Rawlinson & Hunter, bringing you some of the more topical elements of the Congress agenda over the next six months. The sessions will include a look at what the tax landscape may look like post-COVID; the risks to vulnerable people when making financial decisions; issues arising for those caught in jurisdictions during the pandemic and how we, as STEP, can rejuvenate the reputation of trusts worldwide.

We’re also delighted to welcome Professor Jason Sharman to the series. Jason will be talking about the findings of his study over lockdown, co-authored with Michael Findley and Daniel Nielson, which involved soliciting offers from 5,000 banks and 7,000 corporate service providers to test know-your-customer standards. The results will be of huge interest to our industry.

The series kicks off with the highly topical subject of video-witnessing of wills, given the changes that have happened in a number of jurisdictions during the pandemic. The panelists will not just look at what has changed but whether the changes are here to stay.

We hope you’ll join us throughout this series, as we showcase the breadth of interests of STEP’s membership and provide up-to-date knowledge on the subjects that matter to our industry. For more information, head to the STEP website.

Tony Pitcher TEP is Director at LGL Trustees and a member of the STEP Board.

Law Society issues guidance to solicitors advising on tax

Emily Deane TEPThe England and Wales Law Society has issued guidance to solicitors who advise on tax, drawing out their obligations within the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules and regulations.

The new guidance acknowledges the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT), which has been developed and published by several UK accounting and tax professional bodies, including STEP, and sets out the principles and standards of behaviour expected of all members. Compliance is mandatory for STEP members advising on UK tax matters and failure to comply may result in disciplinary action.

The Law Society explains that it has not adopted the PCRT because the obligations of the solicitors’ profession as a whole are already set out by the law and the relevant regulatory rules governing solicitors. These rules have been formulated over centuries, and they comprehensively describe the relationship between solicitors and their clients. They draw the right balance for the solicitors’ profession by combining the protection of the interests of the client, the interests of the public and the rule of law, while ensuring that access to legal advice is preserved and backed up by an independent regulator.

However, solicitors advising on tax matters are encouraged to be familiar with the content of the PCRT, which overlaps with many of the existing professional obligations on solicitors. For example, the five core principles of the PCRT (integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour) are consistent with the legal and regulatory framework that already applies to solicitors.

The PCRT expressly provides that it is not to be interpreted so as to be in conflict with any other professional duties of solicitors. Solicitors that are subject to the PCRT because they are members of one of the signatory professional bodies should therefore comply with the obligations and duties required by the SRA and covered in this guidance in priority over the PCRT.

HMRC also produces standards that set out its expectations of tax advisors. HMRC published a Standard for Agents which sets out its expectations of individuals and businesses that professionally represent or advise taxpayers. Where relevant, solicitors may wish to consider the contents of this or any other HMRC standards, but those standards do not form part of a solicitor’s professional obligations.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

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.

Belonging to a supportive organisation like STEP come into its own in such difficult times

Denese MolyneuxWhen writing this blog, usually the first thing I do is to refer to my previous one I posted to comment or update England and Wales members on items mentioned. Not this time.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, whether they have contracted the virus or not. It is in such circumstances that the benefits of being a member of a supportive organisation really come into their own.

Mark Walley and the team at STEP Head Office are to be congratulated on keeping things on an even keel throughout this period of immense upheaval. While managing the logistics of moving to home working, the staff have pulled together resources to help members keep fully updated, starting with the COVID-19 Technical Hub on the STEP website. After that there are any number of links to new information, from holding virtual meetings; changes to examinations; rescheduled conferences; maintaining CPD and just about any other subject of relevance. The Communications team has excelled itself in managing the STEP online offering to best support the membership.

Life goes on and in other non-COVID news, The All Party Parliamentary Group for Inheritance Tax and Intergenerational Fairness was launched on 28 January to positive media coverage. STEP’s involvement with this initiative has served to enhance our reputation and strengthened stakeholder relationships in this vital area.

The Legal Services Board is currently reviewing how to ensure that legal professionals remain competent throughout their careers. The call for evidence deadline has been extended to 26 June, and STEP will be making a submission to that review.

HMRC is keen to raise standards in the tax advice market and has called for evidence to support the UK Government’s crackdown on promoters of tax avoidance schemes. It is also conducting a review to give taxpayers assurance that advice received from professionals is reliable. Again STEP will be giving a response.

As we emerge from the unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves it will be interesting to see which parts of our lives revert to existence pre-COVID. By the time of my next blog in December, I hope we will have had the England and Wales Branch Chairs Assembly – maybe via video conference. I look forward to hearing your own experiences and sharing some new, and quite probably unforeseen, best practice.

 

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

The COVID-19 crisis prompts a rash of philanthropic giving

Robert CaringtonOn 13 May 2020 the STEP Philanthropy Special Interest Group (SIG) in partnership with Philanthropy Impact hosted the first of its 2020 Philanthropy Programme series of events with a webinar entitled ‘Core Components of a Professional Philanthropy Advisory Practice’.

The event attracted a number of delegates from 18 different jurisdictions, and discussed a range of issues for philanthropy advisors. It was ably hosted by George King IV, Partner, MASECO Private Wealth; with Jo Bateson TEP, Partner, KPMG; Cath Dovey, Co-founder, Beacon Collaborative; and Alana Petraske, Partner, Withers Worldwide LLP, on the panel.

The current COVID-19 crisis and the deep and radical changes in society it has brought has prompted an increase in people wishing to give, and brought about a more important role for the philanthropy advisor. This means it is essential for advisors to have the right tools in place, and to be aware of clients’ shift in attitudes towards philanthropic giving, and what it involves.

Advisors need to feel comfortable about providing advice, especially while getting used to new ways of working. While much work can be done online, there are still concerns over physical actions, like signing cheques for clients, although on a positive note, many regulators have taken a pragmatic approach, recognising the need to work remotely.

A number of reasons were given for the increase in charitable giving. Clients want to be seen to be doing something, or they are using the increased ‘spare time’ to reflect on their place in society and how they could better themselves, with charitable giving being a solution. Many are acting in response to the current situation with a sense of urgency, and want to donate as quickly as possible.

During the first two weeks of the crisis, established infrastructure funds were able to utilise pre-existing networks and donate immediately and strategically. Subsequently there was a broader response, with non-regular clients and new donors emerging. Many of these had used the first few weeks to get their own affairs in order, and then wanted to act with speed. Anecdotal evidence showed that donors range from those with structures in place, to those who need preliminary hand-holding.

Even though the crisis is a generation-defining moment and clients want to donate quickly, several on the panel urged advisors to recommend clients should hold fire, and instead research their charities of interest, with a view to deploying their wealth strategically over a longer period (6 -12 months). It’s vital to manage clients’ anxiety and also assess the risk factors, as charities will be in distress for some time, and many will not survive at all. Reports show that in the UK, 40-70 per cent of charities may be dissolved in the next 12 months.

Another key, and indeed quite obvious issue is whether the client has sufficient money to give. The outbreak has brought out basic level survival instincts (such as the run on loo paper) and if someone feels under attack from the virus, they may not want to give, or feel they can’t.

The panel also suggested advisors be mindful of their own businesses, and review what they expect to happen in the next 6 months – 2 years. Points to consider include: where their work comes from, what will future working will look like, and what clients will be seeking from them. However, now is the perfect moment for advisors to be the philanthropy champion at work and integrate philanthropy into wealth planning.

The event ended with the panel highlighting what they felt were the key skills required for advisors in the industry:

  • Collaboration and the importance of building up a community which you can utilise and engage with.
  • Honesty regarding your skills, and being prepared to practice and train those who need further improvement.
  • To focus on a useful knowledge base, such as understanding what grant makers and other key players are doing.

 

 

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP

PCRT: Continuing to raise professional standards

Business people discussion advisor conceptThis week we publish a short report reflecting on the use of PCRT (Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation) by the professional bodies since the Standards for Tax Planning were added in March 2017.

STEP became a signatory to PCRT in 2011 following its inception 25 years ago by the other UK tax bodies. PCRT is reviewed annually and updated by representatives of each of the seven bodies (along with STEP, these are AAT, ACCA, ATT, CIOT, ICAEW and ICAS).

In its present form, PCRT sets outs the Fundamental Principles and Standards for Tax Planning behaviours required by all our full, associate, affiliate and student members when they are advising on UK tax (regardless of the jurisdiction in which they may be based).

While 2017 saw the Standards introduced, the version issued on 1 March 2019 was the first major restructuring in 25 years to take account of feedback from our members. The updated help sheets provide guidance on how members can apply PCRT to their day to day professional activities, exercise their professional judgement and resist any undue pressure they may receive from clients or employers to act in an unethical manner. The help sheets focus on

  • submission of tax information and tax filings,
  • tax advice,
  • dealing with errors,
  • request for data by HMRC,
  • members personal tax affairs.

Application of PCRT

STEP’s Code of Professional Conduct sets out our core standards, and PCRT supplements this. It does not stand in isolation, and any member who is found to be in breach of PCRT will likely have breached our core Code, other membership requirements, plus any regulatory requirements that members may have to abide by.

PCRT does not only affect members in professional practice. Its Fundamental Principles and Standards of Tax Planning apply to all members who practise in tax, including employees attending to the tax affairs of an employer or client, those dealing with their own tax or that of their family, friends, charities, etc, whether or not for payment, and those working in HMRC or other public sector bodies or government departments.

Tax agents who are not members of any of the signatory bodies are not ‘off the hook’ either. All agents, including those with no professional qualifications at all, are covered by HMRC’s own Standards for Tax Agents published on 4 January 2018, which incorporates the principles of PCRT.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed HMRC’s current call for evidence on ‘Raising standards in the tax advice market’. STEP will be responding to this call for evidence by its closing date of 28 May 2020.

How do members use PCRT?

At its simplest level, PCRT is intended to guide and assist members, enabling them to ensure that they undertake work effectively and appropriately. In practice it is being used as a reference point for professional standards, helping members make informed choices.

PCRT helps members demonstrate the required standards to clients and employers, and assist with explaining why some planning arrangements are not suitable and cannot be undertaken, helping members to support their colleagues and fellow professionals in making correct decisions, and showing a commitment to ethical practice.

As professionals, members serve their clients’ interests, but also uphold the reputation of the tax profession, and the reputation of STEP as a society, all of which take account of the wider public interest. PCRT is a powerful tool in helping us retain public confidence in the work of members.

In these various ways, PCRT appears to be working successfully in supporting members, their clients and the wider community by describing the standards of behaviour that clients can expect when seeking advice on their tax affairs.

How do the professional bodies use PCRT?

PCRT has been widely promoted and debated by the professional bodies across our member communications, and its Fundamental Principles and Standards for Tax Planning play an essential role in promoting ethical conduct among our members.

STEP, along with each of the professional bodies, has entered into a memorandum of understanding with HMRC, allowing HMRC to report to us any alleged misconduct by any of our members. Where such a report is received, we will use the PCRT Fundamental Principles and Standards of Tax Planning to assess whether an appropriate professional approach has been adopted to determine whether we need to commence an investigation under our own Disciplinary Rules.

Finally, HMRC’s report, ‘Measuring tax gaps 2019’ shows a significant reduction in the tax gap attributable to tax avoidance. While there is no direct evidence, each body is of the firm belief that the changes to PCRT have helped to support this reduction. Any questions should be sent to Sarah Manuel, STEP’s Professional Standards Manager at standards@step.org.

The above has been adapted with agreement from Tax: Raising professional standards, first published by ICAS, April 2020.

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

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