A sell-out audience of over 370 delegates has been attending the 2017 STEP LatAm Conference in Cartagena, Colombia this week. The fact that they managed to get here in spite of a local transport strike made me feel, as a Brit, rather at home, but it also shows what a strong following the annual STEP Latam Conference now has.
Looking at STEP in the Americas, we now have a network of well over 40 branches with, between them, almost 5,500 members. This makes our major conferences a major meeting place for practitioners across both North and South America.
STEP Colombia is one of our newer STEP branches, but has a group of committed volunteers working hard to establish STEP in the jurisdiction as a way of enhancing professional knowledge and building international links in the fast-developing country. Cartagena was an inspired choice of venue for the event; as a major UN World Heritage site with an immaculately preserved historic centre, it proved highly appealing for delegates from further afield.
The twin issues of the European pressures for public registers of beneficial ownership and the implications of the US’ non-participation in the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) were just two of the key themes explored in the conference, which Patricia Wass TEP, Chair of STEP Worldwide and Luz Alfonso TEP, Conference Chair and one of the founder members of STEP Colombia, jointly opened.
After this year’s enormous success, many are already looking forward to next year’s STEP LatAm Conference in Mexico.
George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP
It was disappointing to hear of the outcome of last week’s vote in Brussels to introduce new requirements for family trusts to be disclosed on public registers. STEP supported the original draft legislation to enhance anti-money laundering procedures proposed by the EU Commission, but the proposal voted through by the Economic Affairs and the Justice and Home Affairs Committees will also require all trusts, however low risk from an anti-money laundering point of view, to be entered on a public register showing details of all the beneficiaries.
The decision by the Economic Affairs and the Justice and Home Affairs Committees has implications for UK trusts and seems to be based on a complete misconception of how they are used by most people. It will potentially impose bureaucratic burdens on millions of families in the UK and require them to publicly register details of plans they may have put in place to provide for family members.
Far from visions of trusts being used to hide illicit funds, HMRC research confirms that around 25 per cent are used to secure the future of peoples’ families. Unlike Europe, most homes in the UK are owned jointly and are legally held in trust; the same is true of many life insurance policies. Perhaps most importantly, trusts are widely used to provide for vulnerable family members.
While STEP supports efforts to make anti-money laundering rules more effective, most UK trusts are very low risk in money laundering terms. The establishment of public registers will result in little gain for significant cost and loss of privacy for UK families.
I’m sure many eyes will now be on the next vote on the new requirements by the whole European Parliament which is expected on 11 March.
George Hodgson is Deputy Chief Executive of STEP.