The Life of the STEP Worldwide Chair – Patricia Wass

 In Comment, Elderly/Vulnerable Client

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For the last two years (until the end of December 2018) I was privileged and honoured to serve as the Chair of the STEP Worldwide Board.  STEP is the global association for practitioners who specialise in family inheritance and succession planning.  It covers a wide spectrum of subjects.  STEP members help families plan for their futures.  This could be drafting a Will, or advising on issues concerning international cross-border estates.   The members also protect the elderly and vulnerable, advise on family business issues and philanthropic giving.  Full STEP members, known as TEPs, are internationally recognised as experts in their field.  The work of the STEP Board is to protect the reputation of STEP around the world, to promote education and to ensure high professional standards amongst its members.

The STEP organisation was founded in 1991 and has grown quickly.  We now have over 21,000 members from across 95 countries.  It has a STEP Council comprising 30 elected members from across the world.  The STEP Board are elected from STEP Council to serve the Society as Directors.

I was elected as the STEP Worldwide Chair, having served on the Council for a number of years and also acted as one of the two Deputy Chairs before taking on the Chairmanship in January 2017.

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All STEP members serve on a voluntary basis.  Alongside my STEP position I continued to work as a Court of Protection lawyer as part of the Mental Capacity Team of Enable Law.  My office desk is situated in Plymouth.  Understandably, with a global organisation, there came an opportunity to travel extensively to a number of STEP Conferences around the globe.  Often, I was asked to open a Conference with a welcome, and to report on what the bigger picture was of the organisation as a whole.   I was asked to do some technical talks at some of the Conferences (singing for my supper!).  perhaps the most memorable was being asked to speak on “The Use of South African Powers of Attorney in an International Context” at the South African STEP Conference in Johannesburg in 2018.  That was a steep learning curve and I had to do hours of research to make sure I had understood the position and could talk to the delegates about it.  I was also asked to speak on the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Elderly at the Mauritius Conference in 2017.  Often the trips abroad involved meeting the local Branch Committees, or the Regional Boards (e.g. in Canada and Australia) listening to their concerns and understanding how STEP was actually functioning in their part of the world.

The Worldwide Board comprises of seven elected members from Council, together with the CEO, who acts as a Director as well.  The meetings take place about every two months, usually by Skype call, with three face to face meetings in London each year to coincide with the meeting of STEP Council.  We also have a couple of days in March each year when the Board meets to discuss the bigger strategic issues affecting the Society.  We meet with our education partners, Past Chairs and others who are able to input into the “bigger picture”.

In between the meetings as the STEP Worldwide Chair, I had an extremely full inbox, with emails coming in from across the world from members, covering many issues.  I was often the first port of call for a complaint (not too many thankfully!).  I would also be asked to comment on Professional Standards, membership issues, educational questions, special interest groups and so on.  The list was endless.  The way I chose to deal with all the emails was to try and clear them each day as there were always more to take their place the following day.  I had at least one call with the CEO each week.  We would often start the week to cover matters we knew would be coming up that week, and then other calls were made as necessary to keep on top of things.

During my Chairmanship there were a number of projects I wanted to concentrate on which I thought were important for the Society as a whole.  One of the projects that did come to fruition was the implementation of the standardised process to become a STEP member, wherever that person was in the world.  From February 2018 there are now three standardised and consistent routes to entry: exam, essay and expertise.

I also set up a Governance Committee as I felt it was important to have a group of members, working with the Governance Manager, to work on various important governance issues, particularly around Regional Governance, which is an ongoing project.  Changes to the Articles have already been made.  As the Society expands, it is important to ensure that our Governance is fit for purpose in a 21st century organisation.

The “Your STEP” project was also launched.  What we want to ensure is that STEP delivers to all members, wherever they practise.  The project has been looking at regional staffing models, volunteer fatigue, and looking to make STEP more visible to the public so they can understand what STEP does.

There were a number of abiding memories during my Chairmanship.  Certainly, I have made a number of friends across the globe and know that I will remain in contact with a number of them.  I will mention the talk I heard on the first Swiss Liechtenstein Conference in Interlaken in January 2017 when a Swiss astronaut made a motivational and inspiring speech about his time in space.  He showed us the photos he had taken in space which were stunning.  It reminded me of the well-known mantra:

“Reach for the moon.  Even if you miss you will land amongst the stars.”

STEP is an amazing organisation.  I am sure that it will continue to expand and flourish and will build on the good work that it has started in advising families across generations throughout the world.  For anyone starting out in their professional lives I would encourage you to volunteer and get stuck in to your professional organisations.  I guarantee that you will meet some wonderful people along the way, will learn skills that will benefit your career and will have many networking opportunities.  When I first became a STEP member well over 20 years ago I never dreamt that I would one day be elected to serve as its Worldwide Chair.  I just wanted to get involved and make a contribution to the local STEP Branch Committee.  It took confidence and encouragement from special mentors along the way to persuade me to move out of my ‘comfort zone’ and face new challenges.  I am so grateful to them for their input into my “STEP career” which has been such a fulfilling and worthwhile part of my life.

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