The Story of STEP – From a Vision to Global Reality
I had spent the whole of my working life with one of the big five UK accountancy firms from 3rd Office Boy (that’s as low as you get) to Senior Trust Manager, having transferred to the Trust Department in about 1960.
In those days trust work was the preferred activity of ageing audit clerks who, approaching retirement and not wishing to wander round a cold and wet Liverpool ticking the books of audit clients, appreciated the warmth of a permanent desk in the Trust Department.
At that time trust work was, in both the accountancy and the legal professions, the Cinderella discipline – done more to satisfy the family needs of the city’s merchant princes than as a centre of excellence or significant fee-earner. It was not uncommon for audit managers to combine their audit work with the personal tax returns of the directors but also to deal with any associated family trusts that had been created in the past. Such diverse work was regarded as good training for articled clerks – a lot of ticking, a bit of tax and some trust work. Who could ask for anything more? The training needs of others in the department were often overlooked.
Few jobs changed hands between the different firms and even less (in the accountancy world at least) were created. Not surprising that many a partner had bemoaned the fact that “the trust department is dying” when little or no effort was made to do something about it by a positive and pro-active work creation scheme. But that required a commitment to training.
The lack of movement of work meant that skills were learnt in-house on the job; and there the skill remained. It was rare to see the work of other practitioners working in other firms, particularly from one’s own profession. In the two decades after the war many mergers of firms took place. There was little attempt to merge the trust work to create an enlarged department. Because of the seniority of those in charge of their own trusts, work was rarely re-allocated. In my firm we had five trust managers – four of whom being the former trust/office manager of a merged firm. Indeed my first major role was to create one merged department out of five independent trust sections. This also included bringing in the considerable trust work being done in the Audit Department. The articled clerks were pleased as they had never understood the work anyway, nor their managers or audit partners!
…What we wanted was a forum for all those working in the field of trust and estates regardless of their discipline…
It seemed to me that there was need for those working in the same field to meet and talk with others about their work, be they accountants, solicitors, tax specialists, bank trust people, be they principals or employees of either profession. Certainly both the Law Society and the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the (then) Institute of Tax arranged lectures but these were intended for their own members. However, as each of these bodies had so many areas to accommodate, you were lucky to be able to find more than one on trusts or related matters in any lecture season. Indeed an open house policy for non-members is still not universal.
It occurred to me that what we wanted was a forum for all those working in the field of trust and estates regardless of their discipline. In 1990 I was a subscriber to Trusts and Estates magazine and wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that I would be prepared to start a forum of local practitioners in Liverpool to discuss items appearing in the magazine. I suggested that perhaps other practitioners in other towns and cities might like to start their own forum. I even toyed with a possible name for our forum. T&E came easily to mind, as this was the magazine title for Trust and Estates. There was a P for practitioners and we wanted an S for society. PEST and PETS were quickly rejected leaving the only other anagram – STEP.
My letter appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of the magazine. Within a week the editor rang me with the news that he had been inundated with letters from practitioners in many parts of the UK offering to start or join a local group. Of course the Editor seeing this as an opportunity to consolidate his readership encouraged me to take the matter further. Through the magazine we arranged an initial meeting in the Baker Street offices of BDO Stoy Hayward on 20 May 1991. About 80 people attended the meeting from all parts of the UK at which a Steering Committee was appointed under my chairmanship. We set to work on a constitution. At that time a VAT Practitioners Group had recently been created (to become The Institute of Indirect Taxation) and a colleague who had just joined gave me a copy of their Memorandum and Articles of Association. From this I drafted the outline of our own constitution and offered it to lawyers better versed than me who promptly re-wrote most of it!
Our first inaugural meeting, which appointed the first Council, was held in Baker Street on 4 July 1991. STEP was registered as a Private Limited Company on 25 July of that year. The first Council meeting (Baker Street again!) was on 12 September 1991.
The first Branch to be formed was in Birmingham quickly followed by Liverpool and Thames Valley. Our first national conference was held in the Chartered Accountants Hall in London in June 1992. The first Branch to hold their own conference was, again, Birmingham. Such enthusiasm for STEP was so encouraging then as now. I am well aware that the local Liverpool forum I had originally proposed has grown beyond my wildest dreams. Now with over 14,000 members spread throughout all of the world’s major trust and estate jurisdictions I am well aware of the tremendous responsibility which rests on the shoulders of those who volunteer to act on Council and in the Branches.
I suppose my best memory so far, apart from first seeing STEP emblazoned from high banners at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London, must be the privilege of attending a lunch at the Palace of Westminster to welcome the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, and presenting him with his membership certificate. Eleven senior members of the judiciary have since joined him.
There were many who gave so much of their time to help get STEP off the ground. Most are still at or near the helm and their loyalty and endeavours should not go unnoticed.
George Tasker, STEP Founder