STEP Qualifications Framework shapes up

Friday, 01 February 2013
A brief preview of a change to STEP's educational structure that will bring benefits to both employers and individuals as they look to differentiate themselves from the competition.

STEP has been developing a new Qualifications Framework (QF) over the past two years, with a view to meeting individual and employer requests for a more modular approach to gaining STEP qualifications. This fits with STEP’s strategy of focusing on developing employer relationships further and offering the employer the opportunity to match the education offering more closely to business needs.

We have felt for a while that there needed to be greater alignment across the various STEP qualifications in terms of challenge (level of difficulty and volume) and shape (number of papers). At the same time, there needs to be flexibility in content covered so as to meet local jurisdiction, industry and individual member career needs as we hear more about the need to offer specialisation in a changing business environment.

The QF will enable this harmonising of difficulty level and shape while allowing for diversity of content studied. In other words, through this development we aim to meet STEP stakeholders’ needs. It is not just a structural change, but also a content development process that has been under way for the past few years – we needed to have a bank of certificates with which to populate the structure. We have already developed a range of certificates to meet the need for structured CPD for members: certificates in Trusts Disputes, Will Preparation, International Succession and Probate, Advising Business Families, UK Tax for International Clients, and Mediation. The take-up of these new educational products has been gratifying. We are creating new certificates in Advising Vulnerable Clients, Working with the Family Office, Philanthropy and International Tax as a way of completing the specialist streams we have planned. These certificates will be available for study as part of the diploma path, as well as meeting STEP members’ CPD needs.

The framework requires core elements to be studied to ensure a broad base of understanding is achieved. At the same time students are offered the chance to develop more specialised knowledge in line with their own career aspirations and the business needs of their employers.

The QF was signed off by the STEP Professional Development Committee and STEP Board in November and starts to bring together work on qualifications with membership categories and SIGs.

The QF will be implemented in England, Wales and Scotland initially (where the domestic diploma papers are well established), then rolled out more widely over the next couple of years.

Reasons for change

There was a sense of unease that the existing structure might restrict STEP’s movement in the wealth structuring market. A more modular approach, as described, would meet the needs of employers better and potentially bring more members into STEP. New membership categories – for example a technician level – and new programmes of study become easier to construct using a modular framework.

The new framework allows for growth and expansion in what should become an established structure. This is important as changes in policy and regulation create new needs in terms of education. New models of enterprise, too, are being created that provide a challenge to the orthodoxy. STEP needs to equip its members and prospective members with the tools to thrive in these changing environments.

Essence of the change

The existing routes will all remain available, so in England and Wales the Administration of Estates, Taxation of Trusts and Estates, Administration of Trusts, and Trust and Estate Accounting papers will continue to be the standard route.

However, with the new QF, a student could, having taken the two core papers, Administration of Trusts and Administration of Estates, opt for one of the specialist streams that would require two further advanced certificates related to a specialist topic. For example, someone interested in alternative dispute resolution would choose the two Advanced Certificates in Trust Disputes and Mediation, giving them a STEP Dip (ADR).

Each certificate will carry a credit rating enabling an individual to accumulate credits, through both academic study and experience, towards membership of STEP. That membership could be at a ‘technician’ level if the individual didn’t need full STEP membership, or it could be towards full membership.

In addition, we want to highlight the importance of ethics, so applicants for membership will need to have taken STEP’s ethics programme (a series of online ethical dilemma case studies, which an individual can work their way through, though these are not assessed) to generate a certificate of participation.

Potentially of interest to some existing STEP members in terms of professional development, TEPs who have been grandfathered in will be able to gain exemptions from the two core papers and, by taking appropriate specialist advanced certificates, gain a STEP Diploma.

About the different routes

To offer new options while maintaining the existing diploma routes we have identified three routes to STEP qualification: the international route, the local route and the specialist route. So long as these routes are of a standard structure, size and challenge in terms of learning, we can be confident that the TEP designation carries a common value and has a standard currency across all jurisdictions.

The specialisms reflect the more particular areas of practice most relevant to STEP members: mental capacity and advising the vulnerable, family business and family office, philanthropy and charities, cross-border estates, mediation and contentious trusts (dispute resolution), tax and estate planning, will writing, and so on.


In essence, the development of the content matrix and the new structure enables STEP to:

  • offer choice in papers at diploma level reflecting a range of career options
  • harmonise standards across the STEP world
  • provide structured CPD to members
  • support employers within the wealth structuring industry; and
  • reach out to the ‘world next to STEP’.

We will communicate the changes in more detail later this year, but we hope that the benefits to individuals, to employers and to STEP as a professional body are realised over the coming years.

If you would like to comment on the content of this article please email Nigel Race

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Nigel Race

Nigel Race is Director of Professional Development at STEP.

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