On a mission

Friday, 01 February 2013
As the Society's new Chair, Hélène Anne Lewis, steps up, Jennifer Palmer-Violet asks what is top of her agenda.
New Chair of STEP Hélène Anne Lewis.

Left: New Chair of STEP Hélène Anne Lewis.

Education is the reason Hélène Anne Lewis joined STEP in 1999. It’s what will drive her as the Society’s newest Chair. Coming from a long line of educators – her grandparents and parents were teachers – BVI-based Lewis appreciates the importance of learning. In the Caribbean, education has always been valued as the pathway to success.

‘STEP was immediately attractive to me when I understood that it was about continuing professional development (CPD),’ she says, ‘that it met the needs of what I thought the industry absolutely had to have at that time in the BVI.’ When Lewis arrived in the region 22 years ago, the trusts sector seemed closed. Recognising the Society’s education offering as a way for people to break into the industry, she pushed for more involvement. ‘That continues to be my mission: effective, efficient delivery of CPD and student learning opportunities.’

Lewis believes she has a mission. First, she localised her efforts. She was instrumental, along with branch founder and now STEP Caribbean and Latin America Chair Chris McKenzie, in setting up STEP BVI, of which Lewis became conference secretary 2002–2003 then Chair in 2004. The branch made swift progress, attracting 50 members in a matter of weeks, and has since gone from strength to strength, driving the growth of new branches and chapters in the region. One particular achievement was introducing the STEP foundation certificate at the BVI community college, a collaboration between local government and the Society. It’s an idea Lewis hopes will be replicated elsewhere.

Along with her ongoing branch chair role – Lewis was re-elected seven times – she chaired the STEP Caribbean Conference in 2003 and 2009 and has served on the STEP Caribbean Conference Steering Committee since 2001. A member of the STEP Worldwide Branch Development Committee, she is also a mentor for STEP Nevis, STEP St Lucia and STEP Belize. Lewis joined STEP’s Council in 2010 to represent the Caribbean and Latin America, and was elected to the Board of Directors in July 2012, ‘a natural progression’ even though she hadn’t considered standing for election initially. ‘I thought I had achieved nirvana just by being on Council,’ she says. ‘Anyway, life just happens, doesn’t it?’

For Lewis it kept happening. Already grateful to serve at Board level, she ended last year on a high when she was elected to succeed Michael Young as Chair. ‘I am more of a doer than a thinker,’ she says. ‘I’m an activist, so I want to be at the table when the thought leadership is being developed and seeing how I can keep STEP relevant to my constituency, which is now every member of STEP. Our crying need is for continual improvement in the delivery of education and I would be very happy if I achieved that.’

STEP’s larger role in representing members at global forums is also a priority for Lewis: ‘I think it’s absolutely important that STEP continues to advocate for appropriate recognition of the practicalities of trust and probate practice as they are impacted by international regulatory developments, and I am very proud of the work STEP’s technocrats do in this regard.’

Timely arrival

With professional development a priority, Lewis is particularly excited to be at the helm when the Society is developing innovative educational programmes. The recently launched qualifications framework, which offers students a more modular approach to learning, is one initiative she thinks will keep STEP at the cutting edge, ahead of other equivalent associations. ‘Our world is changing rapidly,’ she says, ‘and the world of STEP is itself even more vulnerable to change because of the global economic crisis and the way people view wealth and the management of wealth. Therefore, we have to be ahead of our clients and almost be prescient of what their needs will be and be able to deliver ahead of time. The way we do that is by educating our membership.’

There is a ‘need for experts; and experts in different aspects of wealth management,’ according to Lewis. ‘It’s no longer simply about trust administration or estate planning,’ she adds. ‘Bankers and wealth managers have to be part of the conversation about family ethos; where the wealth is generated; how it’s used and protected; about philanthropic intent; and who in the family or among the beneficiaries is competent to manage it. They have to work alongside those people to continue to ensure the most beneficial arrangement for the broad mass of beneficiaries, not just the one. You’re thinking about generational issues, you’re thinking about needs of different people; many families have children with special needs and we have to look at that.’ Managing vulnerable clients is a key area being discussed. The matters of ageing settlors and challenged learners have to be addressed, she adds.

Tips from the top: Advice for new members

‘Most people who are coming in, having done a study course, are going to be experiencing job challenges and need to understand that they haven’t learnt it all. Continuing professional development is the mantra.

‘So I advise: attend conferences, make sure you read your Journal, use STEP online resources, reach out to your peers, attend your branch meetings, be active and be participatory. STEP needs to grow its next generation of leaders and that comes from participating in your branch activities and your regional conference activities. You should do that if you want to impact the STEP world.’

STEP will advance its CPD portfolio in different ways. ‘We do need to be diverse in what we’re offering, but we also need to deliver it at the top end of the scale,’ says Lewis. ‘We seek quality and have quality people developing our curriculum. We also feel that it’s important to meet needs so we survey the landscape, develop the product and deliver it to our members.’

Part of this diversity will come from global appeal and localising qualifications to suit different regions. ‘Because the trust and the will are English legal concepts, the roots of STEP will grow more easily in soil where there is English law as the base of the jurisdiction. But that doesn’t exclude our becoming very international. Our core product is trust and probate practice and that is what we do best. We build everything around that, but other forms of law also provide for succession and estate planning, and we can impact those markets as well.’

While Lewis believes STEP does most things well, she sees room for improvement and change. ‘An organisation is nothing without its roots and I think that’s how we grow,’ she says. ‘STEP has done a very good job of empowering branches and it’s very important to bring the branch chairs together. But one of my visions is a world congress for all members, where members from across the full range of STEP specialisms will meet to exchange knowledge and foster the cross-pollination of ideas for the development of the Society.’ This suggestion of a global conference to engage the wider membership, providing great networking, education and possibly social opportunities is already off the drawing board and into planning, she says.

Spreading the word

Lewis’ new responsibilities include presiding over the Board and Council, providing counsel to the professional and volunteer leadership of STEP, and being a senior ambassador. She takes over with Michael Young’s best wishes and the support of Chief Executive David Harvey, who believes the Society is ‘immensely lucky’ to have her as Chair. ‘She brings great talent and a global perspective that looks forward to the STEP of tomorrow, while preserving the heritage of professionalism and education that is the core of STEP’s values,’ he says. ‘I greatly look forward to working more closely with her.’

For Lewis, she is delighted and honoured to be flying the flag for STEP around the world. Having made her mark on the BVI and been proud to represent the Caribbean and Latin America, she is relishing the chance to be an advocate on an international scale as STEP extends its reach to seek membership from new and emerging markets.

She will speak from great experience while she promotes the organisation. In addition to all the member benefits, Lewis says being part of a STEP gave her the courage to launch her own boutique firm, BVI-based SimonetteLewis, in 2007, which she cites as her career highlight. ‘We do very much live in a man’s world,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t an easy leap to make.’ The Society’s networking ventures and conferences have offered the opportunity to make contacts and open doors for her firm, too.

Above all, the ‘first-class educational opportunities’ Lewis has enjoyed will stay close to her heart as she leads STEP. She wants to motivate and inspire, and improve the delivery of CPD. ‘STEP’s mission, and the way I perceive it, is to promote the highest standards through education. That’s who we are and that’s the way we set out to be. We may have to do other things collaterally, but I think our substantial focus and our primary offering will be superior professional development.’

Author block
Jennifer Palmer-Violet

Jennifer Palmer-Violet is the PR and Communications Executive for STEP.

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